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Overview

Attorneys in this area serve as advisors and represent companies and individuals arising out of labor and employment disputes. The “labor” side deals with union issues, advising companies on avoiding unionization of their workers, negotiating collective bargaining agreements, administering labor contracts, and litigating issues arising from union issues, including cases alleging unfair labor practice charges. On the employment side, attorneys advise companies on day-to-day employment issues, draft policies and procedures, develop and sometimes conduct trainings, draft employment and separation agreements, and litigate cases dealing with employment issues—including charges of discrimination before the EEOC or similar state agency or via individual suits. L&E law relies heavily on state law, so many firms in this area are local, but there are—of course—larger firms who focus on this area. L&E attorneys are well situated to go in-house because every company, no matter the industry, deals with labor and/or employment issues and nearly every in-house department includes one or more attorneys who have practiced in this area.

Featured Q&A's
Get an insider's view on working in Labor & Employment from real lawyers in the practice area.
Tristan Morales, Partner—Labor & Employment
O'Melveny & Myers LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

There are three broad components in my practice. First, I’m an airline labor lawyer who represents aviation industry clients on matters that often involve the Railway Labor Act. Second is my class action litigation work, which can involve a variety of employment statutes and federal employment laws.

Third is my work with our DEI Task Force, which we launched this year to help companies respond to the evolving legal environment in the wake of the Supreme Court’s rulings restricting affirmative action, scrutiny from state Attorneys General, and increasing challenges from civil litigants. I’ve worked on all parts of the advisory, litigation, and consultation stages, and found the auditing process has been a big part of my practice this year.

What types of clients do you represent?

The aviation work involves airline clients. We have the great fortune to have a long-standing relationship with a number of airline clients. I work with clients like American Airlines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.

My DEI Task Force work includes airline clients, but also a range of other industries, such as venture capital. Clients in a really wide range of industries are looking to us for guidance on that emerging landscape.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

We’ve had a number of employment class action matters involving pilots who are military reservists. There is an interesting set of issues involving the pay and benefits that are required for pilots working unique airline pilot schedules when they are also serving on military reserve duty. Our group has been at the forefront of those cases as they have worked their way through the federal district and appeals courts over the last few years. As an example, two of our USERRA class action matters for airlines have recently reached the federal appeals courts: Scanlan v. American Airlines in the Third Circuit and Clarkson v. Alaska Airlines in the Ninth Circuit.

The DEI Task Force involves a wider range of work talking to clients on the front end about what the landscape is and discussing potential reviews of their policies and changes. Our work as amicus counsel for the National Venture Capital Association is a great example of this. We participated on behalf of Fearless Fund, an Atlanta-based venture capital firm, and its foundation, the Fearless Foundation, which is the subject of a lawsuit regarding one of its grant programs for black women-owned businesses.

How did you choose this practice area?

I kept an open mind when I started at O’Melveny and tried to work in as many different areas and on as many different projects as I could. I didn’t have any labor experience or aviation experience. About 18 months into my time here, I took a project on an aviation labor matter with Aparna Joshi, who is a labor airline partner in Washington, DC. I loved the work, and essentially didn’t look back in terms of the core aviation labor work that’s part of my practice today.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

My typical day really depends on which of the three buckets of work that I mentioned is front and center on that particular day. For example, one thing that is unique with our airline labor clients is that federal law requires that contract disputes go to experienced labor arbitrators in what are called system board arbitrations. When those are happening, they’re essentially trials that occur on a very expedited basis without a lot of discovery. In those cases, I’m getting ready to present opening statements and conduct direct examinations and cross examinations.

In contrast, our class action litigation work tends to be more long-standing matters, with complex strategic issues that evolve over a course of years. We may be getting ready for depositions, preparing for motion practice, or dealing with issues on appeal.

The DEI Task Force work for clients can range from full audits of all of their policies to phone calls to discuss a specific set of policies or developments, or I can be dealing with litigation matters that can present a longer potential time frame.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

I did not take any labor or aviation classes in law school. So, I don’t think it’s a prerequisite to enter this area of practice. I would suggest working on core skills like legal writing, thinking about asking good questions, and attention to detail. It’s also helpful to have an open mind to learn as you’re jumping into new projects as a young lawyer or new member of the team, particularly to understand your client’s business. But, at least in my experience, there are no prerequisites to start on day one in a practice like this one.

What do you like best about your practice area?

The airline industry is continually interesting and changing. Our clients are always focused on new destinations, new routes, and new aircraft. It’s an industry that moves people all around the country and is very tied into a lot of people’s lives. Building long-standing relationships with clients in such a dynamic industry has been a really fun way for me to practice law.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

One of the unique things about our practice is the labor arbitrations that are required by federal law. The labor arbitrations that the Railway Labor Act requires for any contract disputes lead to quick-moving trials. This in turn creates opportunities for young lawyers to draft or deliver opening statements and conduct direct examinations and cross-examinations—experiences that might not otherwise be available in long-standing, multi-year litigation matters.

What kinds of experiences can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?

This area offers a great opportunity for summers to gain direct experience in our airline labor arbitrations. We had a summer associate who worked on a research memo for a very fast-moving and interesting labor arbitration who has now started as an associate at the firm. The timing coincided so that she was with us on day one of the arbitration and the arbitrator actually called out a special welcome to her. She sat with the client—and was able to see how the work that she had done was being put into practice. That’s a unique opportunity for summers at O’Melveny—to potentially have the chance to experience a live case they’ve directly contributed to.

Tristan Morales is an accomplished labor and employment partner and class action litigator. His cutting-edge work for major airlines spans the Railway Labor Act (RLA) and Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), among a range of other statutory and contractual matters. As a leader of O’Melveny’s DEI and Affirmative Action Task Force, Tristan also has extensive experience advising employers on challenges to corporate diversity programs, including on matters arising under Section 1981 and Title VII. Tristan was named a “Rising Star” in transportation law by Law360 in 2021. His well-recognized experience in the airline industry includes federal court litigation, including more than a half-dozen recent class actions under USERRA and a host of novel high-stakes matters under the RLA.

He has first-chaired labor arbitrations before RLA System Boards of Adjustment and advised airlines on airline transactions, including as to “scope” provisions in airline labor CBAs. His class action experience also includes matters under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), as well as consumer class action litigation. A past Pathfinder of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), Tristan currently serves on the board of directors for the Washington Urban Debate League.

Alexandra Stathopoulos, Partner
Orrick

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I defend employers in class, collective, and representative actions that can involve hundreds or even thousands of putative class members. I also handle high-stakes, single-plaintiff claims of discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation. One of my favorite aspects of this practice is strategizing with employers on how to comply with the varied and ever-changing employment laws, including implementing policies and advising on personnel matters to avoid litigation.

What types of clients do you represent? 

I represent a wide variety of clients including technology and life sciences companies, financial institutions, and retail companies. In addition to large, established companies, I have helped many start-up and emerging companies. 

What types of cases/deals do you work on? 

I’m managing several wage-and-hour class actions and representative actions and handling a single-plaintiff contract dispute and a couple of arbitrations. I have also been helping numerous employers adapt their policies in light of new laws the California legislature passed and developing case law that affects employers.

How did you choose this practice area?

When I joined Orrick as a summer associate in 2010, I specifically did NOT want to do employment law because my career before law school involved strategic employee communications, and it felt like too much of the same thing. But when I met the fabulous people on Orrick’s employment team, I just knew that these were the lawyers and staff members I wanted as my teachers, mentors, and colleagues. I have never regretted it!

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

There really isn’t a typical day—some days I might spend the whole day taking a deposition, prepping a witness to testify, conducting a fact investigation or interviewing witnesses, negotiating a settlement at mediation, or appearing at court for a hearing. A day in the office might consist of a few hours of email; a couple of hours reviewing the work of associates on my team and strategizing about our cases; one or two calls with clients to provide counseling and advice on employment issues; calls with opposing counsel to meet and confer over various litigation issues; and (if I’m lucky) a few hours of focused work on briefs, preparing for a deposition or strategizing about substantive discovery responses. 

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Apart from research and writing, law school generally does not focus on litigation skills, but these skills are critically important to practicing employment law. I’m very grateful for the practical-skills courses I took in law school (Depositions, Civil Trial Practice, Arbitrations) and that I signed up for every advocacy opportunity I could get my hands on (negotiations team, mock trial, moot court). These experiences made me feel prepared when I was given early “at bats” at Orrick, and I was able to demonstrate that I can handle myself in high-pressure situations. I also highly recommend befriending and learning from experienced staff members wherever you work. As a junior attorney, I learned so much about the mechanics of filings, assembling evidence, and court protocols from senior paralegals, our calendar department, and my legal secretary.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Orrick’s Employment practice is a very special place. In addition to the marvelous people, the Employment group gives early opportunities to associates who demonstrate a desire and readiness for them. I took my first deposition as a second-year associate and drafted my first motion for summary judgment—the whole thing—that year as well. (We won.) I asked to attend mediations and to argue in court, and most often the answer was “yes.” These were the kinds of opportunities I dreamt about when I went to law school, and I feel very lucky to have found a place where they were available to me. Now, as a partner, I pay it forward by providing early “at bats” to associates so they can hone their skills.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

Employment law is such an exciting area to practice in because the laws are always changing (especially here in California!) and the ways we work constantly evolve. Right now, some of the hot areas in employment law are arbitration; independent contractor classification; the impact artificial intelligence will have on the employment relationship; remote and flexible working arrangements; the gig economy; issues of gender equity (including pay and parental leave/caregiver status); the #MeToo movement and sex harassment; building strong and comprehensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs; and health and safety in light of the COVID-19 pandemic—and the list goes on and on. I can’t say exactly how the practice will evolve, but if I look into my crystal ball, I’d say rain or shine, there will be plenty of work for employment lawyers to do!

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

Employment lawyers have many career options. Becoming a law firm partner is one option, but many of my colleagues have also gone on to rewarding careers as in-house employment counsel, government attorneys, professors, or judges.

What advice do you have for junior lawyers in keeping on top of complex labor and employment laws and the changes to these laws?

My advice is: Be patient and let your interests guide you. As a junior attorney, the volume of employment laws on the federal, state, and local level can be overwhelming. Don’t worry. In just a few years of practice, things will start to click. 

That said, we can’t all be masters of everything, so try to find a topic or topics that genuinely interest you, and spend time attending conferences, networking with practitioners within and outside your workplace, reading the legal news, or researching and writing about those areas. If your firm has a research team, work with them to set up email alerts so you can be the first to know when a new case or article or legislation comes out on the topics that interest you. Pretty soon, people will look to you for that subject-matter expertise, and it will become a cornerstone of your practice.

Alex Stathopoulos is an employment attorney in Orrick’s San Francisco office. Alex defends employers in complex wage and hour class, collective, and representative actions, as well as single-plaintiff lawsuits involving discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination under both California and federal law. Alex also assists employers with pre-dispute demands and administrative complaints and provides creative and practical counseling to companies on a wide range of employment issues, including new and developing areas of the law.

Elena Baca, Partner and Global Department Chair—Employment Law
Paul Hastings LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

With employment law being a core practice area since the firm’s founding, Paul Hastings is a national market leader for complex employment law issues. The firm regularly secures successful outcomes through dispositive motions, at trial or on appeal.

As the chair of Paul Hastings’ Global Employment Law department, I have the honor to collaborate and lead one of the most impressive groups of employment attorneys in the nation that is singularly focused on serving its clients. We are known for our thought-leadership role on evolving, timely, and cutting-edge legal issues related to employment. My practice ranges from advising on employment issues impacting the C-suite to complicated, high-profile litigation and class actions asserted against some of the most recognized companies in the world. “Complexity” can mean many things. At times, it means the sheer number of plaintiffs (certified or potential classes consisting of thousands of people). On other occasions, especially in recent years, it means we are addressing unsettled areas of law—for example, navigating the COVID-19 legislation as it was drafted and implemented. It could also mean the sheer amount of potential liability—or potential associated negative press—that may render the matter complicated and require a multifaceted approach.

What types of clients do you represent?

My clients include talent agencies, entertainment companies, web-based services, online social media and networking platforms, video game developers and publishers, financial institutions, medical technology and research companies, law firms, public utilities, major manufacturers, and leading consumer brands. Specifically, some of my key clients include Activision Blizzard; Creative Artists Agency, LLC; Caesars Entertainment; Dollar Tree; Family Dolla;, Facebook; Gilead Sciences; Goldman Sachs; Live Nation; Mattel; Montage Resorts; Pacific Gas & Electric; and Ticketmaster.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

I work on company-critical legal issues. While much of my time is spent as a trial attorney—averaging at least one trial/arbitration that goes to verdict annually—I also represent clients in regulatory proceedings. The substantive breadth of my practice includes collaborating with company leadership and in-house counsel as they address EEO issues and claims, whistleblower/retaliation claims, and wage and hour claims, both on an individual and class basis. Additionally, I am frequently called upon to turn around cases after significant motions have been lost or mishandled by other law firms, particularly when cases are headed to trial.

How did you choose this practice area?

My practice area chose me. I practiced general litigation when I graduated from law school and then proceeded to a Federal Court Clerkship. When my clerkship ended, I returned to private practice and again focused on general litigation. Sometime after my clerkship ended, I joined Paul Hastings. While I began in litigation, I found I was most interested in employment law, and the area provided me with the most opportunity. I requested (and was permitted) to join the Employment Department. This opportunity—to join an employment practice led by some of the most accomplished practitioners in the field—changed the entire course of my professional career.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

I am an early riser. I take advantage of that quiet time to respond to colleagues and clients and move forward the pressing projects we have underway. I look ahead at my calendar and schedule to determine which of my teams I need to coordinate with and in what order. Depending upon our pending matters, I might prepare to spend the day in court, in depositions, traveling for meetings, or drafting at my desk. As the Chair of the Global Employment practice, I look at department goals, productivity, and our performance as a team and contributions to the firm. Throughout the day, I interact with the teams of lawyers collaborating with me to serve our clients. In the evenings, I spend time with work colleagues and clients. At times, we have dinners, game nights, or participate in various community and bar events.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

I recommend taking an employment law or labor law course in law school. Advanced civil procedure and legal writing and analysis courses are also beneficial. Becoming proficient in legal research is a must. In addition to Lexis and Westlaw, there are newly evolving AI research tools and data forensic tools being used more frequently in the practice of law. Someone entering the practice of law should become familiar with the tools and their functionalities and be prepared for the practice of law to integrate more technology as it looks to secure more efficiencies. I also recommend developing public speaking skills, especially for those interested in labor & employment. Attorneys work in teams, so everyone on the team must be able to effectively communicate to move the overall project forward. No matter what practice area someone is entering into, it is important to be good at logistics and task management. New lawyers should understand how to break apart an entire process into steps—delegating, communicating, and keeping tasks moving.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Junior associates are responsible for a wide range of tasks throughout the entire litigation process, starting with initial fact investigation (scheduling and conducting witness interviews, document collection, and review), research, and preparation of responsive pleadings. Within the discovery phase, junior attorneys are responsible for preparing initial drafts of discovery requests and preparing for depositions (including document review and preparation of outlines). Junior lawyers are also heavily involved in motion practice, including performing legal research and preparing initial drafts of briefings. Even at the trial phase, junior associates are involved as part of the trial team, and may be responsible for preparing witness outlines, research for briefing, and assisting with preparation of trial motions. If a junior associate wants to bolster a particular skill or have a particular experience, all they have to do is ask.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

The common misconception people have when they think of employment law, is that they tend to think of single-plaintiff cases involving a single issue. That is not the typical paradigm of employment work we are fortunate enough to secure. As an employment practice unsurpassed in the market, we have the opportunity to serve our clients on their most complicated, headline-grabbing, sensitive matters. As the world evolves and prioritizes employment and social issues, segments of the employment practice have moved to the forefront of corporate board focus as well as the plaintiff’s board. Based on our recent experience, private litigation is not to the exclusion of state regulatory activity. The fact pattern here presents an array of issues currently of interest to the state: pay equity, arbitration agreements, and PAGA civil penalties. We have seen regulatory agencies insert themselves in private litigation and have successfully represented companies in facing a shifting, aggressive regulatory landscape at the state and federal levels.

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?

The summer program within the Employment Law Department is an immersive program that previews the type of work that associates can expect when they start at the firm (e.g., legal research and writing, fact investigation, document collection and review, etc.). In addition, there is a heavy emphasis on observational learning during the summer, including opportunities to attend depositions, mediation, court hearings, and even trials. Summer associates also participate in mock litigation work (e.g., deposition) to practice these skills on their own. Social events are also built into the summer program to allow new associates the opportunity to meet and get to know the department.

What advice do you have for junior lawyers in keeping on top of complex labor and employment laws and the changes to these laws?

Notably, the largest line item in a company is typically labor and employment expenses. Approximately 60 years ago, there were very few claims that an employee might be permitted to bring against an employer. They might bring a claim for breach of contract, but the employment relationship was not as highly regulated as it is today. As employment law evolved, Paul Hastings became the industry leader. With that history in mind, it is important for junior lawyers to understand the evolution of labor & employment law—how it developed and where it is going. It is important to stay informed and sensitive to the technological, social, and political influences that impact the degree to which the workplace may be regulated, as well as the evolving concept of what work and/or the workplace is. My advice for junior lawyers is to subscribe to legal publications cataloging recent employment trial and appellate decisions and to track proposed and passed legislation. The more you know about the evolution of employment law, the better able you will be to understand the current state of the law as you walk in the door on your first day of work.

Elena Baca is the Global Chair of the Paul Hastings Employment Law Department.

Elena’s litigation practice is primarily focused on employment-related issues, such as employee mobility, discrimination, wage and hour, and whistleblower issues. An experienced trial lawyer, Ms. Baca has established an impressive record of defense verdicts and arbitration wins representing a wide variety of corporate clients. She is considered a “go-to” employment lawyer for many large employers with high-profile disputes involving high-level executives and contentious high-stakes litigation (including class action claims).

Her clients include talent agencies, entertainment companies, web-based services, online social media and networking platforms, video game developers and publishers, financial institutions, medical technology and research companies, law firms, public utilities, major manufacturers, and leading consumer brands.

Lisa Harris, Partner • Denise Giraudo, Partner—Labor & Employment
Sheppard Mullin

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Lisa: My practice primarily consists of advice and counseling and compliance. I advise employers on all employee-related matters from hiring to termination. I also conduct investigations and advise on remedial actions, where appropriate. My goal is to help employers create a fair and equitable workplace, where employees can grow and do their best work. This helps minimize litigation and promotes engagement and productivity. To that end, I train HR professionals on the law and how to conduct investigations, I train managers on how to effectively manage and support employees, and I train employees on what is and is not appropriate in the workplace through harassment prevention and respect in the workplace training. I also conduct wage and hour audits. On the traditional labor side, I advise employers on compliance with the National Labor Relations Act and I represent them in contract negotiations and labor arbitrations. Finally, I advise and train on matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What types of clients do you represent?

Lisa: I represent a variety of clients, including major retailers like Ross Stores, Inc.; fashion and beauty companies like Olive & June; energy companies and utilities like Sempra Energy and Southern California Gas Company; construction technology companies like Procore Technologies, Inc.; production companies like Untold Studios; non-profits like the New York City Anti-Violence Project; health companies like Greater Good Health; and sports teams like the Brooklyn Nets.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Denise: My practice includes single plaintiff discrimination and whistleblower claims as well as class and collective actions. I represent employers in all forums throughout the country and at all levels—administrative, state, and federal courts. Currently, the most common types of cases are retaliation claims related to whistleblowing as well as discrimination claims related to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

How did you choose this practice area?

Lisa: I was first attracted to labor and employment by the people in the practice group. I wanted to join a smaller practice group with talented lawyers whom I would enjoy working with. Because of the type of work we do, labor and employment attorneys are generally personable. From there, I was drawn in by the complexity and variety of the work. labor and employment is about people, so the fact patterns are often interesting and messy. I always say, “people never cease to amaze.”

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Denise: As a labor and employment attorney, no day is ever the same because, inevitably, a client has an emergency or an urgent question. But, typically, I work on various stages of my litigation and also advise clients on questions they may have about particular employee situations.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Denise: Labor and employment attorneys are unique because our work includes day-to-day interaction with non-lawyers. Thus, I would recommend someone have a strong legal background in the relevant employment laws (federal and state), but also have “people skills.” Often, we have new attorneys who have difficulty speaking to non-lawyers about legal issues, and this is a vital skill that must be developed to be successful in this area of law.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Lisa: What I appreciate the most is the impact we can have on our clients and on individual employees. The work we do directly impacts the way employees experience the workplace. Given the number of hours employees spend working each week, that really matters. I also really like the variety of the work. Because labor and employment is ultimately about people, societal events and changes in social norms also impact the law and how it is interpreted and applied. For example, when the pandemic started, employers all had to figure out how they were going to manage their workforces and still comply with laws that were not written with a pandemic in mind. For this they heavily relied on labor and employment attorneys. Similarly, as new generations enter the workplace with different expectations and greater demands for diversity, equity, and inclusion, employers rely on us for guidance on how to meet those demands within the confines of the law.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

Lisa: The greatest misconceptions I have found are that labor and employment is all about litigation and that attorneys who represent employers are on the dark side. My practice is evidence that there is so much more to labor and employment than litigation. In fact, the spectrum is so broad that I regularly meet other attorneys in my practice area who do completely different things than I do. On the second misconception, I have found that most employers want to do the right thing. I generally spend my time advising employers who want to create a more positive and inclusive workplace for their employees. While they want to understand their legal obligations, their goal is to go beyond that.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Denise: Our junior lawyers are entrusted with responsibility and are integrated onto client teams from the start of their careers, sitting in on and participating in strategy meetings and conference calls with clients. Typically, junior lawyers work on research related to our litigation while also reviewing key pieces of evidence for our defense of the case. Associates may also write memos, draft and respond to discovery requests, and prepare objections to evidence offered by the opposing side. Additionally, junior lawyers participate in investigations by interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents, and when ready, lead investigations for our employer clients.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

Denise: Labor and employment truly evolves with current events. For example, during COVID, we entered new “territory” with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act as well as vaccine mandates. We also have dealt with ever-evolving court standards and regulations that can change with the presidential administration. That will not change—but also makes this area of law fun!

 

Lisa Harris is a partner in the Labor and Employment Practice Group in Sheppard Mullin’s Orange County and New York offices. Ms. Harris counsels and represents management in both employment and traditional labor matters. She regularly conducts and advises on high-level investigations and trains HR professionals on how to conduct such investigations internally. She also advises on diversity, equity and inclusion best practices. As a member of Shepard Mullin’s ESG and Sustainability Industry Team, Ms. Harris supports clients in addressing the social aspects of ESG through the development and promotion of a healthy and equitable workplace. In addition to her experience as outside counsel, Ms. Harris has several years of experience as in-house counsel both on a full-time and seconded basis. This experience gives her specific insight into the challenges and issues faced by in-house employment counsel and DE&I teams. 

Denise Giraudo is a partner in the Labor and Employment Practice Group, Managing Partner of the firm's Washington, DC office, and Co-Chair of the firm's Women Lawyers Group. Denise counsels and represents employers in a wide range of labor and employment litigation matters before state and federal courts and various local and federal administrative agencies. Her extensive litigation practice includes representing employers in connection with discrimination and retaliation claims under all applicable local, state, and federal statutes; disability accommodation claims; wage and hour claims; whistleblowing claims under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the False Claims Act; unfair labor practice charges; and grievance arbitrations. Denise also regularly counsels clients regarding personnel policies, reductions-in-force, discipline, terminations, employee accommodations, and leaves of absence. She has routinely handled internal investigations and counseled employers regarding the strategic response to allegations of discrimination. Denise’s practice also includes the representation of employers on matters of workplace safety and health, providing guidance on federal and state OSHA compliance, challenging citations, and litigating OSHA-related matters.

Kate S. Gold, Partner
Proskauer Rose LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

My practice is primarily defending employers in litigation, but also includes conducting investigation of workplace misconduct and regular advice and counsel on the full spectrum of federal and state employment laws and regulations. I defend corporate employers in high-profile or high-exposure single plaintiff wrongful termination matters (including gender, race, age, and disability discrimination and harassment claims) as well as in wage and hour class actions. Whether in litigation or when conducting investigations, my practice involves interviewing and deposing witnesses and reviewing key documents to learn the facts and develop the narrative for the defense of the case. I work closely with clients to develop strategy for litigation or to help clients navigate the ever-changing assortment of federal and California laws relating to wage and hour, employment-related statutes, and lately, Covid-related compliance. My cases are in state and federal court and often arbitration. While many matters are resolved through pre-trial mediation or other negotiations, I have also defended employers in court and jury trials, before agencies, or in arbitration.

What types of clients do you represent? 

I represent employers across a variety of industries, but most are in media/entertainment, financial services, health care and aerospace. Clients range from global media and entertainment companies, independent production companies, talent agencies, music creators and distributors, private equity firms and their portfolio companies, law firms, hospital and medical research centers, manufacturers, and technical advisors.

What types of cases/deals do you work on? 

My caseload varies from single plaintiff discrimination/harassment and retaliation matters to wage and hour class and representative actions. While I practice in both federal and state court, the majority of my cases are in California state court. My recent matters include defending a leading media and financial data company in a pregnancy discrimination case in federal district court; negotiating the resolution of race, gender, and pay equity claims by a high-level female executive against a technology company; and conducting an investigation of race and gender-based pay inequity for a global media and entertainment company. On the class action front, I have recently defended an aerospace manufacturer against class claims of wage and hour violations, as well as an e-commerce food company in class and representative claims for violation of California wage and hour laws. I also conduct anti-harassment training for entertainment clients as well as law firms.

How did you choose this practice area?

While I have always been interested in this area of law and took related courses and participated in clinics in law school, this area of practice ultimately chose me. I have always worked in the employment litigation and counseling space, though I started my career as a commercial litigator doing a variety of types of litigation, including discrimination, harassment, and restrictive covenant cases. As labor and employment laws and regulations increased and this area became a focus for clients, I have concentrated my practice in labor and employment over the last 15-20 years. As the laws and regulations expanded, so did the lawsuits and the client needs for guidance in this area, and my practice grew right alongside this backdrop.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

In a typical day, I work on a variety of litigation, investigation, and counseling matters. I am likely to be on the phone (or Zoom) interviewing witnesses or speaking to clients about strategy in a case or advising them on questions related to compliance with California’s many employment laws. I also spend time each day drafting and revising motions or briefs and working with others on the team to prepare court filings or other written material. I may also be taking or defending depositions (lately all on Zoom) or arguing a motion to a judge or arbitrator (also on Zoom). I conduct trainings on respect in the workplace or strategize with clients about how to address threatened litigation or mitigate risks and meet compliance obligations when it comes to terminations, leaves of absence, and reductions in force. Lately, I spend many hours each week counseling clients about the ever-changing landscape of vaccine mandate rules and navigating accommodation requests.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

A basic class in Employment Discrimination or other labor and employment courses is a great foundation for this area of practice. The major federal and state civil rights laws and their evolution are not only fascinating, but these laws are also the cornerstone of practice in the labor and employment space. If a law student has the opportunity to assist in a workers’ rights clinic, that is also a good way to gain familiarity with the kinds of issues that arise in the workplace and the potential remedies. Litigation training and experience in any subject matter is a huge plus. We are litigators and trial lawyers, so knowing civil procedure and getting experience or coursework in deposition, public speaking, and trial preparation and practice is also key. On top of substantive knowledge and litigation skills, the best employment lawyers project authenticity and can connect with people. These skills are so important for interviewing witnesses, both in an investigation and litigation context, and also for presentation of the client’s case to a factfinder or jury.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Employment law is a mix of civil rights statutes, dynamic, constantly evolving state and federal legislation, human drama, story-telling, and true partnership with clients. The substantive area of employment law interests me because it goes to the heart of how to balance fundamental fairness on an individual level with operating a successful business that often has many stakeholders. There is constant learning because new legislation and case law develops constantly. Practice in this area also provides the opportunity to develop a narrative to explain whatever situation a client is facing, and, like all storytelling, can be presented from many compelling points of view. Employment law also provides real opportunities to collaborate with clients to help them solve problems, whether they are daily challenges or enterprise-threatening issues.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Practicing labor and employment law at Proskauer is unique among large law firms because our group is one of the largest and strongest Labor & Employment Law departments anywhere. The group has handled virtually every type of issue for the largest companies for more than 75 years. Proskauer’s employment lawyers consistently earn the highest accolades and awards in the space. Household name clients in the areas of sports, entertainment, financial services, and law firms look to Proskauer to solve their most challenging labor and employment issues. Practicing labor and employment law at Proskauer means that your daily work is challenging, exciting, and filled with novel issues. Unlike most large full-service law firms, at Proskauer, the Labor & Employment department is a key practice group with more than 150 attorneys in the U.S. and Europe.

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?

Summer associates have opportunities to demonstrate their research and writing skills by contributing to legal memos, motions, and briefs, as well as communications to clients. The projects are substantive and law students tend to learn quite a bit of employment law. Summer associates also have the opportunity to work on client-facing materials, such as blogs, articles and even chapters of treatises. If there are depositions or hearings, summer associates are frequently invited to sit in or “shadow,” to get a sense of the litigation aspects of our practice. Every summer is different and shaped by the cases, trials, arbitrations, depositions, or projects that are occurring at that time.

What advice do you have for junior lawyers in keeping on top of complex labor and employment laws and the changes to these laws?

In addition to reviewing the daily news and headlines (which are now often directly overlapping with areas of my practice), each morning, I read the employment edition of Law360 and Bloomberg’s Daily Labor Report. It is also a great idea to subscribe to blogs by practitioners in the space, such as Proskauer’s Law and the Workplace and the California  Law Update. I often read blogs or articles by other plaintiff and defense lawyers that are well- known in the labor and employment area. The Labor & Employment section of our county bar has great programming that is timely and also a great way to connect with other practitioners. Helping draft articles, client alerts, and slide decks for webinar presentations are also great ways for junior lawyers to learn the latest developments in our area as well. At Proskauer, junior lawyers often participate in our regular department meetings where new developments in substantive areas are presented to the group. This is a great way to stay on top of the law and hone presentation skills.

Kate S. Gold, Partner—Labor and Employment (2022)

Kate Gold is a partner in Proskauer’s Labor & Employment department. She’s a Los Angeles native and lives in the city with her husband and two sons. Kate received her B.A. and J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She is passionate about mentoring women lawyers through Proskauer’s Womens’ Sponsorship Program and is on the Board of the Constitutional Rights Foundation, a non-profit that inspires student civic engagement through its Mock Trial and other civic action programs.

Kate has over 25 years of experience representing clients in a range of industries, including media/entertainment, financial services, healthcare, and aerospace. An experienced litigator, Kate has represented clients in all types of employment-related lawsuits, including class and collective actions, discrimination, retaliation and harassment, non-compete, and wage and hour matters. Kate also represents clients in disputes involving misappropriation of trade secrets, interference with contract, and unfair competition.

Kate has extensive experience conducting sensitive workplace investigations as well as training on sexual harassment prevention. She routinely counsels clients on complex and rapidly evolving issues, including classification of employees, employment issues in the context of purchase and sale of businesses, and non-competition agreements. Additionally, she negotiates and drafts executive employment and separation agreements. 

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