A North Central Alumni Hall of Fame inductee, LaRue has been inspired to help those battling for equality in the workplace.
Denise LaRue (North Central ’76) has been an organizer from Day 1. Presently serving as U. S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of Indiana since 2011, she has dedicated her life to providing justice to those needing it most. A varsity cheerleader while at North Central, she was also an officer in student government, co-wrote her Junior Spec act with Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, and was an active member of the Black Student Union. To LaRue, many years later, those experiences, while dissimilar on the surface, all helped in a unified way.
“My experiences helped in the ability to get in front of folks,” she reflects today. “I give a lot of presentations now, including education, and I think a lot of that comes from being in front of people.”
Her passion in high school was art, but frequent artist’s block forced her to diversify her studies for a career. A chance internship put her in the human relations field, and introduced her, via a teachers strike, to the intricacies of labor. But, did she love it?
“I remember taking an economics course that was focused on the history of collective bargaining,” she recalls. “A movie came out around the same time, Norma Rae, and there’s a poignant moment where [Sally Field’s character] stands up in the factory and she holds a sign up that says ‘Union,’ and that did it for me.”
With her passion sparked, she would earn her law degree in 1989 and began working as an attorney for the Indiana Civil Rights Commission. Prior to her appointment as a judge, she was a partner with Haskin & LaRue.
Judge LaRue has extensive experience in employment-related litigation, involving discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII; the Americans with Disabilities Act; the Family and Medical Leave Act; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. While in private practice, she also handled claims asserting various constitutional violations of due process rights, free speech, and political association violations; wage and hour violations; and claims under an array of federal labor acts.
“The loss of a job impacts so much of a person’s life. Their family life. Their sense of self. Doing whatever I could do to make sure employees were treated fairly became a passion.”
She is proud of the progress that has been made nationally and, specifically, in Indiana. Her goal now is to empower as many people as possible from a younger age. She continues to speak with students on a regular basis and encourages all young people to pursue their passions. That includes investing in students, as she has done at North Central, helping to launch a program geared towards identify young, potential entrepreneurs at the high school.
“I always say this about North Central: It was big! It still is big! It’s like Disney World – The Master of Big. There are all kinds of opportunities for a diverse population of students, so there is something here for everyone.”