Charlotte Sweeney ’91
The Road to Advocacy Work
Hon. Charlotte Sweeney has dedicated her life to advocating for fairness and justice. Early on, Judge Sweeney’s parents instilled in her the belief that everyone should be treated fairly. But it was the honors humanities program at Cal Lutheran—and one beloved professor in particular—that ultimately shaped the course of her life. Judge Sweeney credits the late Jan Bowman, CLU professor emerita, with introducing her to women’s studies and inspiring her to make a difference for those in vulnerable positions.
“Dr. Bowman changed everything for me,” said Charlotte. “When a professor gets you to open your eyes and see things you never thought about, it can have a profound impact on the direction of your life and your work.”
After graduating Summa Cum Laude from CLU in 1991, Judge Sweeney took a gap year for self-discovery. Thus began a journey that allowed her to speak her truth, come out to her friends and family, and realize her calling to fight for equality among marginalized people.
“As a gay woman, I began to see how so many groups of people are locked out of certain entitlements based solely on gender, race or LGBTQ status,” said Judge Sweeney. “Outsiders tend to help other outsiders; I was drawn to speaking up for those who aren’t always treated fairly.”
Making in an Impact in Court and Beyond
Judge Sweeney earned her law degree from the University of Denver, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude and was named the National Association of Women Lawyers Outstanding Graduate. She built a thriving law practice specializing in employment law in Colorado and spent the next 25 years advocating for victims of employment discrimination and harassment.
Her earliest cases helped Judge Sweeney give a voice to women who suffered from gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. Her work left an indelible impression on her clients—and society. A champion of equal pay for equal work, Judge Sweeney helped draft the 2019 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act in Colorado, seminal legislation that serves as a model for other states today. She has published extensively on employment law and has been named a Best Lawyer in America.
Following President Biden’s nomination, Judge Sweeney was appointed as a U.S. District Judge in Colorado in 2022, making her the first openly gay female federal judge west of the Mississippi. She hopes her selection opens doors and inspires other members of the LGBTQ community to apply for the bench. As a judge, she aims to ensure that everyone who appears before her feels heard.
Judge Sweeney is equally passionate about community service. She is a past board member of the Matthew Shephard Foundation, and she travels annually to Juarez, Mexico, to build homes in impoverished communities with Rhodes to Relief.
Raising her children brought renewed emphasis on the importance of giving back and advocating for what is right. Judge Sweeney said, “Thinking about my two daughters’ futures has inspired me to fight for equality and justice in the workplace and society.”