Mary is recognized nationally and internationally as an expert in the field of human rights and labour law, gender equality, pay and employment equity, social protection, judicial reform and dispute resolution. Mary joined the firm in 1994 as a senior partner after 18 years as the founding partner of Cornish Advocates. As a feminist human rights lawyer, she continues to chair the Equal Pay Coalition, a broad‑based civil society coalition which successfully lobbied for the implementation of Ontario's proactive pay equity laws. Mary has also argued many precedent setting cases which established important labour and human rights principles in Canada. This includes the successful 1997 SEIU Charter Challenge which restored the pay equity rights of over 100,000 Ontario public sector women and the CUPE et al Charter Challenge which obtained up to $414 million government funding for these restored rights. She also won for Jane Doe, a woman attacked by a serial rapist, the right to sue the Metropolitan Toronto police force and the recognition that the Charter applies to ensure police forces act in a non‑discriminatory fashion. Certified as a labour law specialist by the Law Society, Mary represents trade unions, employees and public interest institutions.
As a recognized expert in human rights reform, Mary headed the Ontario Human Rights Code Review Task Force. Its report, Achieving Equality which recommended transformative changes recently formed the basis for Ontario’s 2006 legislated human rights reforms. As Chair of the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators Service Equity Committee, Mary co‑authored Towards Service Equity, which made recommendations to ensure non‑discriminatory access to tribunals and regulatory bodies. She has also advised the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the World Bank in Guatemala and Mexico on innovative dispute resolution mechanisms. She has advised the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario on the development of provincial accessibility standards for persons with disabilities.
In addition to her domestic legal work, Mary has an international labour and human rights practice and is past Chair of the Canadian Bar Association International Law Section. She provides strategic policy and consulting advice to international organizations, agencies and governments. This includes work for: the International Labour Organization in the area of pay equity, labour standards, and occupational health and safety, particularly for vulnerable workers and including providing advice to the Chilean Government on its pay equity bill; the New Zealand government on pay and employment equity implementation; and the Swedish government and the European Economic Community on pay equity laws. She also acts as a Senior Consultant to the World Bank on justice reform, trade and gender equality and the legal empowerment of women in labour markets. She has provided expert advice on pregnancy discrimination to NAALC Commission on Labour Co‑operation.
As well as being a frequent speaker, Mary is a scholar and has taught as an Adjunct Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. She has written and spoken extensively in many areas including national and international labour and human rights law, pay and employment equity, access to justice and human rights enforcement, authoring over 70 books, articles and guides. Her papers include: “Closing the Global Gender Pay Gap: Securing Justice for Women’s Work”; commissioned research for the ILO, “Realizing the Right of Women to Safe Work” and for the World Bank, “Building Gender Equality into the Global Trading System”. In 2007, she made a presentation to the Inter Parliamentary Union in Geneva on bringing gender mainstreaming into parliamentary laws and institutions.
Cornish has been frequently recognized for her work. In 1993, the Law Society of Upper Canada awarded her the Law Society Medal for her outstanding contribution to the legal profession which was followed by the SOAR medal from Ontario’s Society of Adjudicators and Regulators for her work in making administrative justice more accessible and equitable. In 2004, she was recognized with a tribute from the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress for her work over the years in advancing the cause of Canadian working women.