Michelin’s only in-house employment lawyer honored with psychology department’s inaugural early career achievement award
As a student, there’s never been anything “traditional” about Christy Rogers. When she walked across the stage at her Clemson graduation, she did so to the cheers of her two-year-old daughter, and she was already carrying her second child. Rogers then worked as a paralegal while her husband was in school, and by the time she started law school at the University of South Carolina, her family had doubled.
When she passed the bar exam and started her career as a lawyer, Rogers says she could have seen herself as several years behind everyone else. However, her experiences gave her a clear picture of her priorities. It’s one reason she was able to secure a rare position; Rogers is Senior Corporate Counsel for Michelin North America, Inc., where she is the only in-house employment lawyer.
Rogers says her time as an undergraduate in Clemson’s psychology department provided a strong foundation for her current career, where insight into psychological disorders and people in general is key. Her success since graduating from Clemson is why the department recently awarded her with its inaugural Distinguished Early Career Achievement Award.
“Clemson provided me with a fundamental understanding of why people are the way they are, and anybody who works with or in a business benefits from that kind of understanding of people,” Rogers says. “Employment law is a natural fit for me because it melds the strengths I was able to develop as a psychology major and a lawyer.”
She says that one of Michelin’s core tenets is respect for its employees, so in everything Rogers does, she sees her understanding of people as a strength in examining how a business or legal decision will make people feel. Even if an action is the “right” one to take from a legal or business perspective, Rogers feels that Michelin values her opinion about which decisions are right from the people perspective.
Rogers says a typical day on the job for her is full of the unexpected, and this is one of the primary reasons she loves it. While one phone call might involve an employee with a disability who requires a special accommodation, the next might be about the legal implications of a Michelin location creating a drawing for employees to win a free kayak.
“The kayak example is real,” Rogers says, laughing, “but it’s a good example of the difference between private practice and working for a company. When you’re working for a company, you get to see how decisions play out and affect people. It makes you realize it’s more than just about what’s legal; it’s about what’s practical and what’s actually going to work in a real situation.”
For the longest time, even while she was a Clemson student, Rogers fought against the idea of becoming a lawyer. Her father, also a lawyer and a Clemson alum, continually pushed her into the field. He encouraged her to become a paralegal, but it was Robert Goings, a lawyer she worked with as a paralegal, who finally convinced her to become a lawyer.
After Rogers and Goings enjoyed a big win during a hearing, she said she congratulated him on the car ride home and praised him for the work he had done on the case. Goings responded by telling her that he had essentially stood in court and said everything she had told him to say. Rogers’ epiphany came when she realized the arguments that won the day were hers.
“In that moment, I realized I hadn’t become disgruntled with the legal profession but with my place within it,” Rogers says. “I knew there was more I could do, so it was at that moment I decided to go to law school.”
Patrick Raymark, chair of Clemson’s psychology department, presented Rogers with the early career achievement award in April. He says that while Rogers’ career achievements are impressive by any standard, her career achievements stand out because of how deftly she has been able to balance family with a work load that would be overwhelming to most.
“There are several reasons why Christy’s story is so compelling,” Raymark says. “Her professional success is a testament to her exceptional level of focus and perseverance, but to have accomplished so much while also balancing the demands of raising a family is truly inspirational.”
Rogers has now gone from Clemson alumna to Clemson mom. Her oldest daughter, Abby, has just completed her first year at Clemson; Rogers says it is surreal to return to campus both to move her daughter in and accept an award honoring her career achievement.
However, a confluence of events blending career and family also makes a sense to her. So much has happened since she graduated from Clemson; she and her husband juggled education, careers and an expanding family, and they’ve met every success and fork in the road as a family. Rogers is as proud of that achievement as anything she has accomplished in a courtroom.
“A lot of working moms try to figure out how they’ll fit children into an established career, but for me it was the opposite,” Rogers says. “I had to figure out how to fit a career into my family because it’s always been there.”