Feared Employment-Law Plaintiffs' Attorneys

The following list was prepared exclusively for Human Resource Executive® by Lawdragon, a Los Angeles-based networking site for lawyers and clients. The attorneys were selected on the basis of curriculum-vitae analyses, evaluations by clients and peers, and reporting by the Lawdragon staff.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007
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Lynne Bernabei

Partner, Bernabei & Wachtel, Washington

Education and Affiliations: J.D., Harvard Law School (1977); B.A., Harvard University (1972); Member, College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, National Employment Lawyers Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.

Key Cases: Bernabei is one of the most seasoned and respected plaintiff employment lawyers in the country, with a specialty of representing whistleblowers. Currently, she is representing a quartet of whistleblowers, including an FBI agent allegedly forced to resign for complaining about a bungled terrorism investigation, two Los Alamos employees who reported unlawful billing and an Afghan immigrant discriminated against in her role as a consultant to a government contractor.

Bernabei is representing Muslim charities who allegedly were wrongfully accused by the U.S. government of terrorist activities, including al-Haramain Oregon, whose case challenging the Bush Administration's illegal NSA surveillance program is pending in federal court in Northern California.

Formerly a partner with Debra Katz, Bernabei in 2003 obtained a $930,000 settlement from the University of California for Glenn Walp, the former head of the Office of Security Inquiries at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was fired from the nuclear weapons lab for documenting national security breaches, mismanagement, fraud, cover-up and corruption.

The disclosures by Walp and a second whistleblower led to increased scrutiny of security failures at U.S. nuclear labs. Bernabei's two current clients against Los Alamos -- Chuck Montano and Tommy Hook -- reported that the lab overcharged the Department of Energy by millions of dollars, which has been confirmed by the Inspector General.

Bernabei has represented numerous NPR reporters and employees in race and sex discrimination claims.

Proficient in Italian, Spanish and French, Bernabei is also the co-author of The High Citadel: The Influence of Harvard Law School (1978) and contributed to Larry King's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (2006).  

Hal 'Rattlesnake' Gillespie

Partner, Gillespie Rozen Watsky Motley & Jones, Dallas

Education and Affiliations: J.D., University of Texas (1972); B.A., University of Texas (1969); Fellow, College of Labor and Employment Lawyers; Associate, American Board of Trial Advocates.

Key Cases: Gillespie is known for representing a whistleblower against Texas energy company TXU and a former employee of Lance Armstrong, who claimed mental distress and fraud. He sued TXU on behalf of William Murray, a senior vice president of capital management, who sued following his termination. Murray claimed he was terminated because he raised questions about the company's accounting practices related to a European subsidiary.

TXU did not reveal the problems until two months later, leading shares to plummet and the European unit to file for bankruptcy. The case was expected to test the whistleblower provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley; however, after the judge ruled Murray was not entitled to a jury trial or punitive damages, the parties reached a settlement.

Gillespie is also handling a suit on behalf of Lauren Browning, a female geoscientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. She claims the Institute attempted to humiliate and discredit her after she questioned why she was not paid or treated equally. Her case is seen as an important test of the glass ceiling women face in the sciences.

In the early 1990s, Gillespie forced Dallas' transit system to live up to its labor union's grievance procedures and vindicated an employee of Spencer Gifts who had been discriminated against. Since 1972, he has worked exclusively for employees and unions in individual and class claims in state and federal court.

Debra S. Katz

Partner, Katz Marshall & Banks, Washington

Education and Affiliations: J.D., University of Wisconsin (1984); B.A., Union College (1980); Member, National Employment Lawyers Association.

Key Cases: Clients love Katz, who is tough as nails when it comes to protecting employees who have blown the whistle or been discriminated against. She represented a Fannie Mae whistleblower, whose testimony led to the agency's overhaul, as well as other high-level whistleblowers in Sarbanes-Oxley matters involving the bio-pharmaceutical industry.

Among her latest highest-profile engagements is Katz's representation of former employees of Scott Bloch, who runs the Office of Special Counsel and is alleged to have pushed aside longtime employees and stifled dissent for political purposes.

The sensitive suit involves a claim that Bloch's probe of Karl Rove, Lorita Doanes and other White House personnel is just Bloch's latest effort to insulate himself from disciplinary action by President Bush, as any action taken against Bloch would allow him to claim retaliation, putting the White House in even more of a fix.

Katz also was part of her firm's team that represented 10 employees of the Capitol Tunnels in Washington, who complained of having to work in an asbestos-ridden environment. They claimed the U.S. Capitol architect harassed and threatened them after they alerted Congress to the hazards they faced working in the utility tunnels beneath the site. The case settled in July after Katz and her firm mounted a successful legal and press strategy that paid big dividends.

Katz also recently brought a high-profile sexual harassment suit against Andre Chreky, former hairstylist to First Lady Laura Bush and owner of Washington's most exclusive hair salon and spa.


Jeffrey L. Liddle

Partner, Liddle & Robinson, New York

Education and Affiliations: J.D., New York University (1976); B.S., Cornell University (1971).

Key Cases: He's "Mr. Millions" to employees harmed by Wall Street misconduct and conflicts of interest. He is lead counsel for 40 former Robertson Stephens investment bankers who claim they're owed $500 million. He has won some of history's largest defamation claims and reached a multimillion-dollar settlement for 39 wrongly fired employees of Credit Suisse First Boston's municipal finance department.

Considered a terrific advocate for high-end investors and bankers who have a falling out with their employers, his firm has notched more than $250 million for its clients. He has been lionized by numerous publications, including the book Blood on the Street: The Sensational Inside Story of How Wall Street Analysts Duped a Generation of Investors, by Charles Gasparino.

In 2006, he was part of the team that won an innovative claim for Philip Spartis, a one-time Citigroup stockbroker in Atlanta, who claimed a lawyer defamed him by posting false allegations about him on a Web site. The site was designed to solicit clients who would then bring claims against brokers and Citigroup challenging management of their brokerage accounts. The verdict included $600,000 in punitive damages and $400,000 in compensatory damages.

In August 2001, Liddle won $25 million for Stephen Sawtelle -- the largest punitive damages award in securities industry arbitration of employment claims -- against Shawnee Mission, Kan.-based financial services firm Waddell & Reed.

That award came on top of more than $2 million in compensatory damages and nearly $1 million in attorneys' fees on a claim under Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act. The punitive award was struck down on appeal, retried, and again the arbitration panel awarded $25 million in punitive damages. The case eventually settled for $10 million with the punitive component netting $7.9 million.

Ellen J. Messing

Partner, Messing, Rudavsky & Weliky, Boston

Education and Affiliations: J.D., Boston University School of Law (1977); A.B., Harvard University (1973); Board Member, National Employment Lawyers Association; Fellow, College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.

Key Cases: In a case against Harvard College's president, Messing won a huge victory for Massachusetts employee plaintiffs and plaintiffs' lawyers in general by persuading a court to allow plaintiffs' lawyers to interview other employees outside the presence of a company lawyer. The case arose after a judge sanctioned Messing's firm for speaking 'ex parte' with five Harvard employees who were witnesses in a discrimination case, allegedly violating a state ethical prohibition.

An appellate court restricted the scope of the ethical rule to those employees able to commit an organization to a particular legal position. The case arose when Messing sued Harvard on behalf of a sergeant with the college's police department, Kathleen Stanford. She claimed Harvard denied her promotion and singled her out for discipline.

Messing's firm communicated with two patrol officers, a dispatcher and two lieutenants who had supervised Stanford. Harvard sought sanctions and the appeals court refused to impose them. In rejecting the sanctions, the court rewrote the state's ethical rule, leading other states to loosen similar restrictions.

Messing also blocked a Massachusetts biotech company from preventing one of its former executives from pursuing new work. In addition, she authored the chapter, "The Ethical Constraints on Talking to Potential Witnesses" in the book Representing Plaintiffs in Title VII Actions.

Wayne Outten

Partner, Outten & Golden, New York

Education and Affiliations: J.D., New York University (1974); B.S., Drexel University (1970); Founding Member and Executive Board, National Employment Lawyers Association; Founder, NELA New York; Governor, College of Labor and Employment Lawyers; Co-founder, Workplace Fairness.

Key Cases: The lawyer of choice for Wall Streeters and corporate executives, Outten has handled countless employment and settlement agreements. Praised by plaintiff and defense counsel alike, he "doesn't just take cases based on how deep the pockets are," said another employment specialist.

His firm handles countless wage and hour, discrimination, retaliation and contract claims, as well as lawsuits and administrative actions challenging working conditions for New York's poorest employees.

With the EEOC, he secured a $12 million settlement for a female executive who sued Morgan Stanley for sex bias in pay raises and promotions. The case arose when Allison Schieffelin, who had worked for Morgan Stanley for more than 14 years and was a principal in its Institutional Equity Division, filed a discrimination charge and was later fired.

He and his team also brought home $18.9 million for two Wall Street bankers who were fired by Deutsche Bank rather than being paid their due compensation. The arbitration award is one of the largest obtained in an employment case.

Outten is also the author of The Rights of Employees: The Basic ACLU Guide to an Employee's Rights.

Cliff Palefsky

Partner, McGuinn Hillsman & Palefsky, San Francisco

Education and Affiliations: J.D., Georgetown (1977); B.A., State University of New York, Buffalo (1974); co-founder, National Employment Lawyers Association.

Key Cases: Palefsky won the first major wrongful termination verdict, when, in 1981, he took down IBM for firing his client, who had refused to break up with her boyfriend -- an IBM employee who left to work for a competitor. The case of Roulon-Miller vs. IBM established the right of even at-will employees to sue for wrongful termination. His passionate persuasion has been legendary ever since, taking on rights of employees and consumers to fair pay, working conditions, grievance resolution and privacy.

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Palefsky has also been a leading force in striking down the most onerous mandatory arbitration clauses, winning a precedent-setting case preventing workers from going to court for civil rights violations.

With Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, he sued one of the nation's largest arbitration companies, the National Arbitration Forum, for violating California consumer protection law through its refusal to disclose how it handled cases impacting consumer rights.

He is also at the forefront of, and is taking on, companies that deny compensation and that force employees to litigate in corporate-friendly states. He equally works the legislative process, securing a San Francisco law against random drug testing and lifestyle discrimination, and working on the federal level to secure workers' rights.

Brad Seligman 

Executive Director, The Impact Fund, Berkeley, Calif.  

Education and Affiliations: J.D., Hastings College of the Law (1978); B.A., Sonoma State University (1975).

Key Cases: Seligman is noted for taking huge winnings from years in private practice with Saperstein Seligman Mayeda & Larkin and funding The Impact Fund, a Berkeley nonprofit that underwrites class-action civil rights, poverty and environment lawsuits. Since 1994, it has awarded more than $4.3 million.

Seligman is equally noted for his tenacity in a long list of record-setting litigation.

Seligman is lead counsel in the nation's largest class-action against a private employer in the discrimination case brought by millions of female employees against Wal-Mart, Dukes vs. Wal-Mart Stores. Because Wal-Mart is the nation's biggest employer, the case is a battle of the titans and its ramifications are expected to be profound on workplaces.

He also is handling the gender discrimination class-action against Costco and the recent $61 million settlement with the U.S. Postal Service, which is the largest-ever disability discrimination settlement. He successfully tried and settled the third-largest sex discrimination class action in history against Lucky Stores and settled the first major challenge to the use of psychological testing by a private employer, Target Stores.

Mary Anne Sedey

Partner, Sedey Harper, St. Louis

Education and Affiliations: J.D., Saint Louis University (1975); B.S., Webster College (1970); member, former president, National Employment Lawyers Association; former president, Workplace Fairness; fellow, College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.

Key Cases: Female employees have a friend in Sedey, who won $34 million from Mitsubishi for sexual harassment, which she topped with a $47 million settlement against Rent-A-Center, accused of harassing and discriminating against female employees.

The Rent-A-Center settlement, in 2002, also provided jobs to more than 1,100 women who claimed they had been discriminated against by the nation's largest rent-to-own company, which had more than 2,200 stores. In addition, Rent-A-Center -- which had no grievance procedures, nor an HR department despite having 7,000 nationwide employees -- agreed to recruit a woman to serve on its board of directors and to award economic bonuses to managers who met diversity goals.

Sedey chose employment law as a way to help women. She was the first president of the St. Louis chapter of the National Organization for Women and played a leading role in its Missouri chapter. In one of her first cases, she upheld the right of a juvenile probation officer to sue a trial judge for sex discrimination over a claim of immunity by the judge.

Joseph M. Sellers

Partner and Head of Civil Rights & Employment Practice, Cohen Milstein Hausfeld & Toll, Washington

Education and Affiliations: J.D., Case Western Reserve School of Law (1979); B.A., Brown University (1975); President, Washington Council of Lawyers; Head, Employment Discrimination Project, Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Key Cases: Sellers handles some of the most influential cases involving discrimination and wage-and-hour claims. His 15 years as head of the Employment Discrimination Project at the Washington Lawyers Committee provided huge experience for Sellers, who has served as class counsel, and often lead counsel, in more than 40 civil rights cases and has argued more than 25 appeals.

He is nationally known for his work in Beck vs. Boeing, in which he represented a class of more than 28,000 women at Boeing facilities in Washington state who claimed sex discrimination in pay and overtime decisions.

He has also handled politically sensitive cases, including Conway vs. Deutsch, representing a class of all the female undercover case officers at the CIA who claimed sex discrimination in promotions and job assignments, as well as Johnson vs. Freeh for a class of all African-American FBI special agents who claimed racial discrimination in promotion and job assignments.

He represented a class of Native American farmers denied credit opportunities by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Keepseagle vs. Venamen and a class of more than 14,000 chicken-processing workers who sued Perdue Farms for denial of overtime pay in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. He is also counsel in Dukes vs. Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest class-action, representing more than 1.5 million female employees of Wal-Mart.

He also handled the first sexual-harassment class-action tried by a jury on behalf of female correctional employees and others subject to retaliation at the D.C. Department of Corrections.

Sellers has testified more than 20 times before Congressional committees on civil rights and employment matters, and worked on passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

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