There’s been a major call to action lately for employers in America to provide improved benefits for their workers. Mary Ann Stiles is a practicing attorney and law professional who’s worn many hats in her life, all of which have benefited others; specifically when it comes to workers compensation issues.
Working Americans have been fighting for decades to receive better benefits and financial compensation for the work they provide their employers. When it comes to workers compensation issues, many companies would rather focus on the daily operations of their other employees than deal with the stacks of papers that come when an employee makes a claim for compensation.
Mary Ann Stiles has worked in law for over 40 years now. Her work has always revolved around ensuring that workers compensation was a viable product for both the employers and employees. When she first started her career, however, because she was a woman she was often overlooked, and not taken seriously within her field. Both in law and especially as one of the first women to lobby the Florida Legislature full time representing business interests and especially that of employers.
As time went on, Stiles went above and beyond to prove herself as a true law professional, and her list of accolades are proof that the work she’s done within the past four decades have paid off. Her drive to succeed and overcome the misogyny that existed, and still exists, within the legal field is also what makes her such a successful advocate for all of her clients. She too had to fight for herself all throughout her life, and she transfers that passion into everyone she comes in contact with.
“I’m a woman who fought so hard throughout my whole life to get an education, and managed to become the first woman to accomplish a lot of milestones in my field. The job I’m involved in now is all about helping others, specifically when it comes to workers compensation issues, and I couldn’t be prouder of the legacy I’ve created.”
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Stiles about her extensive career in the legal field, and how she was able to break major barriers to get where she is today. Beyond being a woman in America during a time where they were still expected to be homemakers, Stiles also had to overcome personal obstacles to achieve her greatness.
“I was born in Tampa, Florida, I was in a family with 7 siblings and four step-siblings, and was the first of them to become a college graduate.. The area we lived in was quite rural, meaning I didn’t have any electricity or running water until I was 10-years-old, and didn’t experience living in a place with temperature control until I was 22.
My family could not financially support me although they assisted me when they could. I worked two to three jobs to go to junior college at age 26; then college at 28. I worked to get into a law school that had financial means to assist students and I worked all through law school.”
Stiles attended Hillsborough Community College where she earned her Associates of Arts in 1973 and then continued her education at Florida State University in 1975 when she received a Bachelor of Science degree. To complete her law studies, she graduated with a Juris Doctorate from the Antioch School Of Law in 1978 (now known as the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law).
“Before I started college at 26, I was living my life as a young twenty-something as a secretary for a law firm when I decided that I wanted to do more with my life. I started Hillsborough Community College at night at 26 years of age and then to law school at 30 years of age and graduated law school at 33 and received several job offers. Originally I thought I wanted to be a litigator, but was told by a lot of my attorney peers that my legs and red hair, as a woman, would distract the jury, and they weren’t ready to have a woman present in front of a court, this was 1978.”
When it comes to her experience with workers compensation, Stiles began that work as a law student when she worked within the Florida House of Representatives while attending Florida State University.
“Before I was a law student, while working within Florida’s government, I drafted a major rewrite of how workers compensation should work for the Democrats in the House of Representatives in Florida, who had control of the house at the time.
The workers compensation system in Florida back then was crumbling and legislators were basically piling a bunch of benefits on top of a statute that was not working. It was following the National Workers Compensation Study that had come out in approximately l973 at the federal level.
I learned early on that workers compensation is a state issue and the federal government should stay out of it! I was able in l979 to finally work on legislation for workers compensation that was created to balance the system for both employees and employers. The courts had other ideas at the time so we had to go back to the table in 1993.
The attorneys in Florida are very influential over legislation. In 1993, our governor at the time asked me to draft a workers comp bill that could solve the internal issues in the current system. This became a whole year of fighting with other attorneys and legislators over the policies that have been in place for decades.
The workers compensation attorneys and business could not agree on a solution. Another bill ended up being passed at the time that actually cut benefits. It wasn’t until 2003 when we were able to make adjustments so that workers could receive benefits faster without years of litigation. At the same time we also had to bring down the cost of workers compensation.”
In 2003, business, with me in the front of the fight for 4 years, finally passed major workers compensation reform that has held – mostly – to this day. It has brought rates down by approximately 70% over the years.”
From her graduation to now, Stiles has always been working to improve the benefits of others in any way she can.
“I was one of the first women lobbyists representing the business community to appear before the Florida Legislature, and now there are women, for which I am very proud walking all over the lobby of the legislature. Most of whom have no idea what life was like to the ones that were early in the game. It’s been amazing to watch this industry grow and make room for others to join within the past 40 years. One cannot accomplish any goal without what I call a ‘fire in the belly.’ You need to want something enough that you’re willing to give up a lot to accomplish it, while ignoring the nay-sayers that tell you you cannot do it.”
From 1982 to 2012, “Stiles headed her own law firm, Stiles, Taylor & Grace, P.A. Additionally, she served as General Counsel for the Associated Industries Insurance Company, Inc., Associated Industries Insurance Services, Inc., The Associated Industries Political Action Committee, the Associated Industries of Florida, Special Counsel of the Associated Industries of Florida, Vice President & Chief Lobbyist for the Associated Industries of Florida, Associate of Deschler, Reed & Crichfield, intern of the Subcommittee of Federal Procurement Practices through Senator Lawton Chiles of the US Senate, and was a legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives.”
“The rest is kind of history from that point on. In addition to my own practice and all the other hats I was wearing, I felt as if I was putting all my eggs into one basket, so when Stiles, Taylor & Grace closed, I wanted to focus on other projects revolving around helping others find their voice. I then joined as a partner the largest minority and women owned firm in the country, Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A. and that work as a litigator was amazing.”
In addition to her successful career, “Stiles serves or has served on numerous boards for various organizations. She previously served as a Board member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay for a number of years, and is an advisory Board member of Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law. She co-founded NWCDN in 2004 and was a board member, founding shareholder, and the chair of the advisory board of the Platinum Bank of Brandon.
She was also a member of the Rules Committee on Workers’ Compensation for the Department of Administrative Hearing of the State of Florida, a member of the Florida Workers’ Compensation Task Force, and a board member and shareholder of Associated Reinsurance Brokers, Inc. Stiles is also a thriving entrepreneur who was the Owner and President of Styles by Stiles, a shareholder and President of the 42nd Street Café & Bistro, Fletcher’s Backstreet Grill, the Director of Eclipse, Inc., a PEO; and, was a shareholder and director of Six Stars Development Company of Florida, Inc.”
Throughout her extensive career, Stiles has received many awards and accolades for the work she’s done as a professional lawyer and advocate. She was the one of the first two women to be inducted as a fellow in the American Bar Association Workers Compensation College in 2009. She was the first woman inducted into the Florida’s Workers Compensations Institute Hall of Fame, and has been published in numerous publications praising her for the amazing work she does.
There’s almost too many accolades to list when it comes to the work Stiles has put into the world to benefit others, but to name a few she “ was honored as a Top Florida Attorney in the Wall Street Journal, Best Lawyers, Florida Trend Magazine, Tampa Business Journal, Tampa Bay Magazine, and Florida’s Women-Led Businesses, among others. In 2007, she was recognized as Women of the Year by Business & Professional Women in Tampa. In 2018 IAOTP recognized her as Top Attorney of the Year; in 2021 for its Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2022 was inducted into its Hall of Fame.
In 2003, IAOTP has recognized her in “Top 50 Fearless Leaders, Vol. 2. In 2017 she was featured in Who’s Who of Professional Women and was honored as one of the Best Lawyers in America over numerous years. For 2016 she was the recipient of the Legal Elite Award from Corporate America News. In 2015 named Lawyer of the Year for Tampa Workers’ Compensation Law-Employers by Best Lawyers and in 2011 received the Circle of Gold for Outstanding Alumna from Florida State University. She is also on the Wall of Pride for King High School in Tampa, Florida.
She was also named ‘Queen of Comp’ by the Tampa Tribune. In 2018 she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by Marquis Who’s Who. She has also served for a number of years as a member of the Board of Directors of Lion Insurance Company.”
“As you can tell, I’ve always had a passion and drive for improving the systems that run our country that are meant to benefit the workers who keep our economy alive, but it’s more than just the work I do as an attorney on an individual case. It’s the overall work done to explain the purpose of the changes and the reasons why changes were made to the workers compensation law in Florida over a span of 40 years. Finally working with CompCorrect has proven to be a great move for me.”
Stiles explained to me how a lot of her success is credited simply to her passion and drive that’s always been within her growing up. Through her educational experiences and passion for law and workers compensation issues, she’s been able to build an empire in which workers are able to use their voice to get what they deserve.
Stiles is currently working with a new start up company, CompCorrect, LLC in St. Petersburg, Florida, but before she transitioned into the powerhouse she is today, she had to learn to break down the gender barriers that existed all throughout our nation in the 20th century.
CompCorrect, LLC, “has created an artificial intelligence program to assist owners and employers in navigating through the labyrinth of workers compensation with its employees and the insurance industry. The company has six patents pending on the program. The goal is to service clients throughout the United States and currently is working on developing the program throughout the United States.”
“Before I joined the CompCorrect team, I met with one of the individuals, Brad Dempton, who started the company. I was doing litigation work for one of their clients, and was so curious as to how they were able to receive some of the benefits and cost savings they were accomplishing through the program CompCorrect was running. I ended up meeting Brad for lunch and in the middle of it he stopped me and went ‘you’re Mary Ann Stiles? Do you realize I’ve been working on living off the 2003 statute on workers compensation that you had drafted and have been doing so for the past ten years and literally drafted my own work based on your past experiences,’ which was really amazing.
We ended up talking more and built up a really wonderful professional relationship during that one lunch. He told me he wanted me to come and join the whole team, and eventually that’s exactly what I did.
So when it comes to workers compensation, when a worker is injured on company property, a lot of employers have trouble filing all the paperwork correctly in regards to the employee’s injury. They’ll leave out information, miscalculate certain rates, and overall can just make the process very confusing.
The system we use at CompCorrect LLC can easily point out when there are inaccuracies in reports or employment wages in general. It simplifies the entire process for everyone because employers, more times than not, are more focused on their business running smoothly than getting through a bunch of legal paperwork to pay their employees when a compensation issue appears.
I’ve been with CompCorrect for about three years and I truly love it. Being in this industry for so long, watching it develop and change, and now being a part of that change is amazing. There were a lot of nay-sayers in the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Without passion to want something that badly is impossible. Working hard to accomplish goals that you set for yourself is integral to success.”
I wanted Stiles to conclude our conversation with some advice for future generations who have a passion for something, but not necessarily the confidence to see it through. She emphasized that especially when it comes to the young girls in America today, it’s all about confidence and not listening to the people who look down on you without even knowing what you can do.
“Every young girl and woman should know, regardless of their age or financial wherewithal, they can do whatever they really want. But one must want to achieve their goal and work hard to accomplish it. My family could not financially support me. I worked three jobs to go to junior college at age 26; then college at 28.
Listen, I was the first in my family of 7 siblings and 4 step siblings to graduate college, much less law school. I am very proud of that and would not change it for the world. Today there are athletic scholarships and many other opportunities for women that were not available in the 60’s and 70’s.
One should take advantage of every opportunity that comes to them, and do not worry about those that do not like you or would say negative things about you. That is part of life and what they say or think has little if any impact on your life.
My motto is and always has been ‘Do not tell me that I cannot do something!’ I am still working at 78-years-old, married my soulmate Barry Smith at 53, and gained two wonderful stepchildren from that marriage. I found a man that was not intimidated by my success or my personality. Barry played in the NFL for 4 years, 3 years with the Green Bay Packers and one year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was traded to Miami Dolphins and while in camp was diagnosed with Polio which ended his football career. He was recently inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame. He should be in the College Hall of Fame. He truly understands me and is my support, and that’s key for my confidence, everyone needs some sort of support system to uplift them.
Be kind to people but stand up for yourself when you need to. You might be called a bitch but you will make it clear – ‘don’t tread on me!’ Remember, women have come a long way, but not far enough. There is more work to do!”
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.