Karen Kithan Yau
My unwavering commitment to working for social justice, fair play, and equal opportunity is rooted in my own personal and cultural history. Born and raised in a Hong Kong public-housing project, I emigrated to New York in my early teens. I struggled with contradictions between the media imagery of the United States and my own reality of language barriers, racial taunts, and alienation from parents who toiled long hours in sweatshops for family survival. This perspective has compelled me to commit my career to the public interest and the rights of workers.
Karen dedicates her work to vindicating the rights of employees and workers. She has over two decades of legal experience working with employees, workers, and immigrants, including over nine years as an Assistant Attorney General in the Labor Bureau at the New York State Attorney General, where she led investigations into labor violations in numerous industries, including the agricultural, greengrocer, moving, restaurant, and taxi industries.
In addition, Karen has had varied law teaching and policy-related experiences. She was a recipient of a Skadden Fellowship at the National Employment Law Project and a Robert M. Cover Teaching Fellowship at Yale Law School and held an assistant professorship at Syracuse University College of Law. Karen also worked in management and leadership positions in not-for-profit policy and advocacy organizations.
Karen is active in bar associations and community organizations. She is a director of the boards of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) and its not-for-profit affiliate, the Asian American Law Fund of New York (AALFNY). Karen co-chaired AABANY’s Pro Bono and Community Service Committee and spearheaded its Pro Bono Advice and Referral Clinic, a recipient of the New York State Bar Association’s 2019 Bar Leaders Innovation Award. In addition to AABANY, Karen is also a member of the Federal Bar Association, the National Employment Law Association/National and New York Chapter, and the New York City Bar Association.
Karen has been honored by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) and the Chinese-American Planning Council – Brooklyn Community Services for her pro bono work and contributions to the Asian American Pacific Islander community. She frequently conducts training, speaks, and writes on employment matters, Asian America, cross-cultural competencies, and immigrants’ rights. She currently teaches at CUNY Law School.
Karen received her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law and graduated from Stony Brook University and Brooklyn Technical High School. She is admitted in New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
Karen emigrated from Hong Kong and speaks fluent Cantonese Chinese. A proud daughter of garment workers who toiled long hours and the exasperated mother of two children who excel in argument as an artform, Karen now lives in Brooklyn and Kingston, New York.