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Cutting-Edge Employment Law Issues 2021: The California Difference


Speaker(s): Connie K. Chan, Erin Pulaski, Hillary Benham-Baker, Lauren Blas, Lindsay Hutner, Lisa Holder, Mark Punzalan, Michael D. Weil, Michelle G. Lee, Natalie E. NORFUS, Oswald B. Cousins, Timothy J. Long
Recorded on: Sep. 29, 2021
PLI Program #: 305951

Connie’s practice consists primarily of representing workers, unions, and public interest organizations in complex impact and appellate litigation, including in matters of employment, civil rights, and constitutional law. She has briefed multiple cases in the U.S. Courts of Appeals, the California Supreme Court, and the California Courts of Appeal on a wide range of issues, and has argued in the Ninth Circuit and in the federal and state trial courts. Connie’s practice also includes legislative drafting and client advice. 

In 2017, Connie was named a “California Lawyer of the Year” in the Worker Health and Safety category for her work on Kilby v. CVS in the California Supreme Court establishing workers’ right to “suitable seating” under California’s wage orders. Connie previously served as a councilmember on the California Fair Employment and Housing Council, and as a deputy city attorney in the Affirmative Litigation Division of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. 

In addition to California, Connie is admitted to practice in New York. 

 


Lauren Blas is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher where her practice focuses on class actions, labor and employment litigation, and complex commercial litigation in the trial courts and on appeal. 

In 2021, Ms. Blas was recognized as a rising star by Law360 which recognizes top litigators and dealmakers practicing at a level usually seen from veteran attorneys. She was also recognized by The Best Lawyers in America® 2021 Ones to Watch in Labor and Employment. Ms. Blas was named a “Rising Star” in Class Actions/Mass Torts and Appellate Litigation in Southern California by Super Lawyers Magazine in 2018, 2019, and 2020. 

Ms. Blas represents clients in class actions in state and federal court and has litigated a wide range of appellate matters as well. She has special expertise in California employment class actions, discrimination actions, and actions under California’s consumer protection statutes, including the Unfair Competition Law, the False Advertising Law, and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act. She has briefed over a dozen appeals in the state and federal courts, and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the California Court of Appeal, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Ms. Blas was also a core member of the appellate team in New Jersey’s successful challenge to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. After nearly four years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Act violated the Tenth Amendment and invalidated it in full. 

 


Lindsay E. Hutner is Co-Chair of the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice’s Employment Litigation & Trials Group. Lindsay is a focused, practical, and dedicated litigator, whose clients trust her to not only vehemently defend their interests, but offer pragmatic, no-nonsense advice, all with an eye toward their business needs. She works closely with clients in defending both class actions and single-plaintiff cases involving employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wage and hour, PAGA, unfair competition, enforcement of non-competes and other restrictive covenants, misappropriation of trade secrets, wrongful termination, and breach of contract. 

With more than fifteen years of experience collaborating with employers ranging in size from start-ups to large public companies, Lindsay has wide-ranging experience advising employers on virtually all facets of employment relationships. Lindsay regularly counsels clients on all manner of topics, including the design and implementation of employment practices and handbooks, proper employee classification, wage and hour concerns, family and medical leave, workplace investigations, risk assessment of harassment and discrimination claims, terminations, and various employment laws, including the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, California wage and hour laws, Business & Professions Code section 17200, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, California Family Rights Act, the federal Family Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. She also conducts on-site trainings and workplace audits. She also drafts all types of employment agreements, including executive employment contracts and severance and release agreements.

Lindsay has been invited to speak at a number of programs covering a wide variety of employment law issues. Lindsay is also a contributing editor of PLI’s Employment Law Yearbook, a treatise updated annually that focuses on employment law issues for employment law practitioners. 

 


Mark is a Partner at Chan + Punzalan, where he manages the firm’s litigation matters. Mark represents companies in a wide variety of litigation matters involving trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights, and complex business disputes. In 2020, Mark was selected as a Top 100 Northern California Super Lawyer, and he has been selected to the Super Lawyers list every year since 2015. 

Mark is also an active member of the legal community, and he serves or has served as in numerous leadership roles, including serving as a Lawyer Representative to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council (Northern District of California), Northern California Regional Governor for the National Association Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), Chair of the Intellectual Property Committee for the San Mateo County Bar Association (SMCBA), President of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Silicon Valley (APABA Silicon Valley), Co-Chair of the Judiciary Committee for the Asian American Bar Association’s (AABA), Chair of the Bar Association of San Francisco’s (BASF) Small Firm Committee, and President of the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (FBANC). Mark is also a two-time recipient of the Minority Bar Coalition’s Unity Award for his contributions to diversity in the legal profession. 

EDUCATION 

J.D., Santa Clara University School of Law, 2006 
B.A., University of California, Los Angeles, 2001 

PRACTICE AREAS 

Intellectual Property 
Commercial Litigation 

 


Michelle Lee represents workers in both individual and class action cases, enforcing state and federal laws which protect workers who have been treated unfairly by their employers.  She is experienced in wage theft, wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation, harassment, sexual assault, breach of contract, and trade secrets matters.   

Michelle has represented a broad range of workers throughout the country involved in industries such as retail sales, restaurant, music and recording arts, education, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, finance, and tech.  Throughout her career, Michelle has successfully recovered millions of dollars in damages for her clients from some of the largest employers in California.   

Michelle has tried complex cases in court and arbitration, including serving as second chair on the trial team in the landmark sex discrimination case Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins that highlighted the barriers facing women in venture capital and tech industries.  She has also tried cases involving breach of contract, wrongful termination, and unpaid equity claims.    

Michelle has been selected as one of the Top Women Attorneys in Northern California by San Francisco Magazine, a Northern California “Super Lawyer” by Super Lawyers, and one of Lawdragon’s 500 Leading Plaintiff Employment Lawyers in the United States.  She is a frequent speaker at conferences and panels on employment law issues, as well as on topics related to bias and diversity.  

Before joining Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe, Michelle was an associate at a prominent national litigation firm, where she handled a wide variety of complex cases ranging from intellectual property disputes to securities lawsuits.  Ms. Lee also served as a law clerk for the Honorable William Alsup of the Northern District of California and as a law clerk at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Georgia.  Michelle is a graduate, cum laude, of the University of Michigan Law School where she was an editor for the Michigan Journal of Law Reform.  Ms. Lee received her undergraduate degree in biology from Yale University. 

 


Erin Pulaski is a partner at Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe LLP, long recognized as one of California and the country’s leading law firms specializing in the representation of individuals and classes in employment disputes. 

Ms. Pulaski represents employees and executives in all aspects of individual and class action employment litigation, including wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, wage and hour, and unpaid commission claims. She has recovered tens of millions of dollars in damages for her clients. She has been an active member of numerous successful trial and arbitration teams in recent years, including several individual employment cases that resulted in $1 million-plus judgments.

She serves as a Contributing Editor of The Rutter Group’s California Practice Guide: Employment Litigation, and has authored or co-authored articles for publications such as the Daily Journal and CELA Voice. She is frequently invited to speak on employment law issues, including speaking engagements through the Bar Association of San Francisco, California Employment Lawyers Association, Legal Aid at Work and California Lawyers Association. She is a Supervising Attorney for the Workers’ Rights Clinic of Legal Aid at Work.

Ms. Pulaski has been consistently recognized for her advocacy on behalf of employees and executives. She has been named a Super Lawyers “Rising Star” and “Top Woman Attorney” in Northern California every year since 2015. She has also been named a Lawdragon 500 “Leading Plaintiff Employment Lawyer” and a “Lawyer of the Year” for Wage & Hour Law. Along with colleague David Lowe, Ms. Pulaski is the previous recipient of the “Top Settlements” award for the Largest Employment Law Settlement in 2015.

Prior to joining Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe, Ms. Pulaski worked as an attorney at Los Angeles employment and civil rights firm Schonbrun Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP. She also served as a law clerk to Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

She graduated Order of the Coif from Berkeley Law.


Timothy Long has deep experience litigating complex labor and employment issues, having served as lead counsel in multiple class, collective, and representative actions and advising on dozens more. Tim litigates wage-and-hour matters, including exemption, incentive compensation, independent contractor, off-the-clock, and pay practice claims. He also has defeated class and collective certification (including at Stage One) in exemption, off-the-clock, and pay practice cases.

Tim advises businesses on employment litigation and other types of claims. He litigates employment discrimination and wrongful termination claims, as well as matters involving trade secrets. Tim provides counsel on many corporate matters and often advises entertainment industry employers on emerging issues. Tim has both prosecuted and defended employers in trade secret and unfair business practices litigation. He has also resisted competitor efforts to enjoin the lawful practices of his clients.

Tim represents employers before state and federal administrative agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), and Employment Development Department (EDD). He also conducts workplace investigations and audits.

Tim has wide-ranging experience handling traditional labor relations matters, including advising on certification and decertification elections. Throughout his career, he has litigated dozens of traditional labor disputes, representing clients in courts, before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and in private arbitration. Tim also advises clients on labor relations issues that arise in mergers and acquisitions.


Hillary Benham-Baker is the Principal Attorney at Benham-Baker Legal. Hillary is proud to have dedicated her career to representing employees and civil rights litigants.  

Hillary is a frequent speaker on employment law topics and has recently spoken on California disability accommodation law, equal pay litigation, employee leave laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and pre-litigation strategies.  She is also the author of the "Damages for Wrongful Termination and Other Tort Claims" chapter in Employment Damages and Remedies (CEB 2019) and co-author (with Julia Campins) of the Alternative Dispute Resolution chapter in Employee Leave Laws: Compliance and Litigation (CEB 2021). 

Super Lawyers magazine has named Hillary a "Rising Star" among Northern California attorneys every year since 2011. 

In 2008, Hillary served as an Extern to the Honorable Claudia Wilken in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.  As a student at the University of California Hastings College of Law, Hillary was awarded the Tony Patiño Fellowship. 


Lisa Holder, Esq. is a nationally recognized, award-winning trial attorney who has been identified as a "Super Lawyer" by Los Angeles Magazine for four consecutive years. She has dedicated her career to racial and social justice and systems change.  The Open Society Foundation, recognizing her commitment, awarded her a Soros Justice Fellowship. Holder currently operates a civil rights practice that focuses on a wide array of legal services including police misconduct, workplace discrimination, public school equity, and wage and hour litigation, severance package and workplace accommodations negotiations, criminal trials and appeals, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consulting.

Additionally, Holder is a recognized racial justice scholar and equity consultant.  She periodically teaches the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic at UCLA Law School. She serves as a legislative consultant on institutional bias elimination, drafting California bias elimination laws and testifying as a subject matter expert in the California Assembly/Senate.  In 2019, Holder drafted AB 241 and 242, the laws that now require all judges, attorneys, court staff and health professionals to undertake continuing education on bias-elimination. In 2020, she co-steered the Proposition 16 campaign to repeal California’s ban on Affirmative Action. In 2021, she was appointed by the Governor to serve on the nation’s first Congressional Reparations Task Force to analyze the case for African American reparations. Holder has designed and implemented diversity solutions and implicit bias trainings for non-profits, government entities, private equity, Hollywood film and television companies, and Public Defender offices across the country. She recently designed equity programming for the City of Oakland, Stanford University, the American Bar Association, the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association and the London School of Economics Alumni Association.

 Previously, Holder worked as Legal Director of the Equal Justice Society, Los Angeles Deputy Alternate Public Defender and Law Clerk for the Equal Justice Initiative. She served on the ACLU Board of Directors for four years and is, currently, Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Child Care Law Center.

After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree at Wesleyan University, Holder graduated from New York University School of Law as a distinguished Root-Tilden Scholar.


Michael Weil represents employers in a wide range of employment disputes, with a focus on class and representative actions asserting multimillion dollars in damages and high stakes noncompete, employee mobility, and trade secrets matters arising from a variety of industries, including life sciences, technology, retail, and financial services, throughout the United States. He also regularly handles complex single- or multi-plaintiff matters involving independent contractor status, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Michael has a deep background in trade secrets and noncompete cases involving a variety of intellectual property, including organic chemistry, genetic sequencing, chemistry lab processes, client lists, and shipping cost information, among many others.

 


Natalie is a creative and proven problem solver with nearly 20 years of experience counseling employers on diversity, equity and inclusion & HR strategies, compliance, and litigation. Natalie has worked with global employers in various industries including quick services restaurants, manufacturing, financial services, and healthcare. Natalie firmly believes that there is no “one size fits all” approach to DEI or HR strategies and draws on her varied experiences to customize strategies that are unique to an organization.


Oswald Cousins defends and advises clients on complex employment law challenges. His 25 years of experience as a trial lawyer and high-level advisor to both established and emerging companies on all aspects of employment law further strengthen the capabilities of Morrison & Foerster’s Employment + Labor practice. Mr. Cousins’ experience includes: wage-and-hour compliance and litigation, Private Attorney General Act litigation, equal pay claims, discrimination and harassment, whistleblower and retaliation, reductions in force and disability accommodation.

He has tried cases to verdict before federal and state court juries and judges, and has served as lead counsel in arbitrations and administrative proceedings.

In addition to his legal work, Mr. Cousins is a frequent speaker and authority on legal developments, theories, and practical aspects related to employment law and litigation. He is a member of the American Employment Law Council (AELC), the American Bar Association, Labor and Employment Law Section, and the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Mr. Cousins is admitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and to the U.S. Supreme Court.

REPRESENTATIVE EXPERIENCE

  • Large national retailer misclassification case: As co-lead counsel, Mr. Cousins successfully tried a store manager misclassification case to verdict for a large national retailer. This was a significant victory, because if plaintiff had won, it would have opened the door to hundreds of other claims.
  • Emerging tech companies counsel: Advise and counsel emerging tech companies, including leading software development hosting organization and prominent social media website, on variety of employment issues, including wage-and-hour compliance, and ongoing employee-relations issues.
  • Cybersecurity company counsel: Lead counsel for cyber-security company in FCRA background check class action.
  • Whistleblower actions litigation: Litigated multi-plaintiff whistleblower actions for large health care provider; obtaining favorable settlements.
  • National photography chain defense: Successfully defended national photography chain in arbitration of wrongful termination claims by former executive.
  • Bio-sciences company defense: Defended emerging bio-sciences company in trade secret and wrongful termination litigation by former CEO.
  • Large hospitality defense: Defended large hospitality organization in complex, multi-plaintiff discrimination lawsuits, including two jury trials.

BAR ADMISSIONS

  • California

    EDUCATION

  • University of Vermont (B.A., 1990)
  • University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law (J.D., 1994)