February DEI – Interview with Tanganica Turner, Esq., of Musick Peeler & Garrett LLP
By Terri Walters, CCP, CP
I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Tanganica J. Turner, an African American Associate Attorney in the prominent downtown Los Angeles law firm, Musick Peeler & Garrett LLP.1 Founded in 1954, the firm is historically known to offer legal services to a large and diverse clientele.2 With nearly 10 years of experience in the legal field, her current practice area is labor and employment law, with a focus on wrongful termination claims, alleged violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, discrimination/retaliation cases, and allegations of harassment. Ms. Turner also represents clients in wage and hour cases.
After discussing the January 2024 NALA DEI article written by Oyango A. Snell, Esq., CAE, entitled SCOTUS’ Color-Blind Doctrine: A Brief Look at the Ban on Race-Conscious Affirmative Action in Higher Education,3 the stage was set, and we broke the ice for the interview. I jumped right in and asked Tanganica how she felt about the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning affirmative action programs. I immediately followed up and asked her if she believed these new diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies were supposed to be a restatement of those old policies. She explained that while the affirmative action programs gave minorities access to certain opportunities that were previously not afforded to them, DEI needs to go quite a few steps further.
1. What are your thoughts on the state of DEI in the legal profession?
Born and raised in Pasadena, California, Tanganica recognizes that she may not have had the most challenging pathway into law but understands that nothing that she has accomplished has been without someone else paving the way.
“I’m doing a great job as an attorney, but it took the support of people who wanted to see me succeed to get here… Diversity, equity, and inclusion sounds altruistic and looks good on paper, but we still have leaps and bounds to reach the objective. This is still a relatively new concept that will take a little grace to catch up to where we need to be. Once we see more minority partners and shareholders, we will be one step closer to reaching the objective.”
2. What was your experience at the historically black college or university (HBCU) you attended? How has that experience led you to your pathway into law?
While in high school, Tanganica was urged by a Black female counselor to consider attending an HBCU. HBCUs are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African American community. They are mostly concentrated in the southern United States. The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, defines an HBCU as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of Black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.”4
With the influence of her high school counselor, pop culture television shows at the time, and her own mother, who was a medical professional, Tanganica signed up for the Annual Black College Expo and gathered as much information as she could to apply to Spellman College.
Spellman College, founded in 1881 as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, is known to be the oldest private, historically black liberal arts institution for women. Although she described her experience as “unique” and her “disposition as being blessed and grateful, standing out in an HBCU was challenging.” She was surrounded by Black women of every complexion and socioeconomic background who were outstanding students, most in the top 10 percent of their high school class, and superstars in their own right.
Tanganica received a BA in psychology from Spellman College. To further distinguish herself from her graduating peers, she joined the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s Pasadena Alumni Chapter. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated was founded over 110 years ago on January 13, 1913, by 22 young women studying at Howard University. They sought to create an organization rooted in sisterhood, scholarship, service, and social action.5
3. What support networks helped you?
Tanganica’s sorority affiliation and her sorors were instrumental and vital support networks in the pursuit of her legal career. She had a soror who helped her pay for her bar exam at a time when she most needed financial assistance.
Another soror, who had already passed the bar, helped her connect with a retired African American judge who gave free workshops to minorities who were struggling with studying for the bar exam.
While searching for career opportunities, Tanganica researched various firms and also paid special attention to the diversity or lack thereof in the professionals pictured on the law firms’ web pages. We both agreed that lack of diversity can be a huge factor in why some applicants decide to pass on further exploring career opportunities with certain law firms.
4. What resources have you used in your own career/professional development?
After graduating from Tulane Law School in New Orleans and successfully passing the California Bar Exam, Tanganica joined the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Inc. (BWL),6 a non-profit corporation whose “mission is dedicated to charitable, educational and community-based services, and addressing the needs and concerns of African American women in the legal profession.”
She also joined the John M. Langston Bar Association of Los Angeles, an organization whose mission is “to empower leadership, advance the professional development of its membership, and promote the administration of justice in the Black community and the community at large.”7
Tanganica says she has spent a great deal of her life in service to others. Her life and career experiences have created within her “a passion to help promote the fair treatment and full participation of all people, especially those within populations that have historically been underrepresented, marginalized, and/or subject to disparate treatment on the basis their race, ethnicity, identity, disability, gender, or sexual orientation.”
5. What do you recommend for others on their career journey?
Tanganica suggests that one should find a mentor along their journey. “It is not always easy to find a mentor, but a mentor can be an invaluable resource. Find someone in the same industry that is interested in assisting you with your growth. It may be helpful if that mentor is also a minority who can relate to your journey, but it is not necessarily a requisite. Diversity, equity, and inclusion sounds progressive and looks great on paper, but the change is still woefully lacking. It truly takes the support of people who want to see you succeed.”
Terri Rasay Walters, CCP, CP, has been a corporate and litigation paralegal for over 20 years. Terri has worked on cases from inception through verdict, performed extensive trial preparation and support, and managed electronic files and eDiscovery platforms. Terri was on the Board of Directors for the Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA) from 2016-2020. She served as Co-Chair of the LAPA Holiday Gala (2016, 2017 and 2019), Employment Law Chair (2017-2020), San Fernando Valley Chair (2017-2020), Executive Vice President of Marketing and Planning (2019-2020), and Editor of LAPA Reporter (2019-2020). In 2021, she served as an Advisor to LAPA’s Board.
2- Musick Peeler & Garrett’s Diversity and Inclusion Mission Statement states, “We believe diverse perspectives and inclusion policies are more than afterthoughts or isolated efforts.”