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Workplace Accommodation and Leave Challenges 2021


Speaker(s): Alejandro Caffarelli, Amy L. Bess, Cardelle B. Spangler, Matt Hoffer Morris, Rae T. Vann, Richard J. Mrizek, Sara E. Elder, Thomas G. Hancuch
Recorded on: Nov. 3, 2021
PLI Program #: 306797

Alejandro Caffarelli is the founding shareholder of Caffarelli & Associates, Ltd., a boutique labor & employment law firm headquartered in the City of Chicago. He is a former President of NELA-Illinois, the largest plaintiff employment lawyers’ group in Illinois, and a former Executive Board member of the Hispanic Lawyers’ Association of Illinois.

In over twenty years as an employment lawyer primarily representing employees, Mr. Caffarelli has litigated hundreds of cases on an individual and class-wide basis, and is the Firm's lead counsel at trial. He has been awarded the top “AV” rating by LexisNexis’ Martindale-Hubbell since 2008, one of the oldest and most respected peer-review based rating services for attorneys. In 2011, Mr. Caffarelli was named an Illinois “Super Lawyer,” and has continued to be named a Super Lawyer each year since then. In 2018 he was listed as one of the 500 leading employment lawyers in the U.S. by Lawdragon, and in 2019, he was named a Leading Lawyer by Law Bulletin Media. Mr. Caffarelli has also been quoted and recognized as an employment law expert by the national media, including in print for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times online, as well as on the air for Univision Chicago, and Telemundo.

In 2014 Chief Judge Ruben Castillo appointed Mr. Caffarelli to the Pro Bono Advisory Committee for the Unites States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and in 2018 U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth appointed him to a joint screening committee whose task is to review and vet U.S. District Court candidates and advise the Senators regarding the candidates’ qualifications and fitness – a position in which he continues to serve.

Since 2016, Mr. Caffarelli has served on the Board of Directors for Latinos Progresando, a Chicago-based organization that serves immigrants with the highest quality, low-cost legal immigration services, community education and engagement, and advocacy/organizing around policy that affects immigrants. And since 2005, Mr. Caffarelli has provided pro bono services on behalf of indigent workers through ARISE-Chicago, and has served on the ARISE Legal Advisory Board.  In 2020, Mr. Caffarelli became a certified mediator for the Chicago Bar Association’s mediation program, and in 2021, he became an Arbitrator on the National Employment Law and Consumer Law Panels of the American Arbitration Association (AAA).

Mr. Caffarelli currently lives in the City of Chicago with his wife and two children. He is a certified U8 and U10 soccer coach for the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) and enjoys coaching as well as playing soccer, tennis, and squash, and playing a variety of musical instruments in his spare time. In 2019, Mr. Caffarelli joined the Board of Directors for the Northwind Soccer Club, one of Chicago's premier competitive youth soccer organizations.


Amy L. Bess is the immediate past Chair of the Labor and Employment practice area at Vedder Price and currently serves as Chair of the group’s DC practice. She also recently completed a three-year term of service on the firm’s Board of Directors.

Her employment litigation experience includes the representation of employers before U.S. state and federal courts and administrative agencies, defending against claims of race, sex, disability and age discrimination; sexual harassment; whistleblower retaliation; restrictive-covenant disputes; wrongful termination; and wage and hour violations. She regularly counsels clients in all of these areas, drafts and negotiates employment and severance agreements, conducts on-site workplace investigations, presents training seminars and speaks to employer groups on avoiding workplace problems. Ms. Bess is an author and frequent speaker on a variety of employment topics, most notably on the impact of the #MeToo movement and anti-harassment laws and best practices that organizations should undertake to prevent and resolve harassment concerns. She is regularly quoted in the media on these and related topics.

Ms. Bess has extensive first-chair bench trial, jury trial and arbitration experience. She also is experienced in the defense of complex class action litigation, including wage and hour collective actions and pattern-or-practice litigation brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Legal 500 United States guide recommended Ms. Bess in the Labor and Employment—Labor and Employment Litigation category in 2014. Since 2018 the Legal 500 United States guide recommended her in the Labor and Employment Disputes (including collective actions): Defense and Labor and in 2021 was editorially recommended in the Employment Labor-Management Relations category. Ms. Bess also has been listed in Washingtonian Magazine’s “Best Lawyers” edition (December 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2020) in the category “Employment Defense.” She has been selected for inclusion since 2012 in Washington DC Super Lawyers in the category “Employment Litigation Defense.” In 2013, Ms. Bess also was listed in Expert Guides to World’s Leading Lawyers— Labour and Employment.

Ms. Bess is actively involved in a number of nonprofit and charitable organizations. She is a board member and serves as general counsel for Everybody Wins!, a charity in the District focusing on promoting children's literacy. She is also a member of the board of the District of Columbia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In 2019 she was awarded the “Tom Nees Award for Exceptional Service” by Community of Hope, a nonprofit organization pursuing a mission to aid low income families experiencing homelessness and struggling with health care needs, in recognition of her long-standing, deeply impactful service to the women, men and children who turn to Community of Hope for help.


Matt Morris is Vice President of FMLASource, a ComPsych company, one of the leading FMLA and absence management administrators in the country.  An employment lawyer by background, Matt has over 18 years of experience working with employers’ FMLA and ADA administration and is responsible for FMLASource’s compliance program and ADA consulting solution.

Matt is a frequent speaker on the FMLA, state leaves, the ADA, and compliance challenges regarding leaves of absence.  He was invited by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to participate in a roundtable discussion about the FMLA and his response to the DOL’s proposed FMLA regulations was cited 38 times by the DOL in the final rule.

Prior to his work in absence management, Matt practiced for many years at a boutique Chicago employment law firm. He received his B.A., magna cum laude, from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and his J.D. from The University of Michigan Law School, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Rae Vann represents and advises employers on all major federal, state, and local employment laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Equal Pay Act (EPA), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Rae has more than 20 years of experience representing and advising corporate clients on workplace compliance matters. She provides counsel to businesses on mitigating individual and systemic discrimination risks, establishing effective alternative dispute resolution procedures, conducting thorough and effective workplace harassment and other misconduct investigations, and other labor and employment matters.

Her experience includes:

  • Drafting memoranda analyzing significant employment-related developments within the judicial, executive, and legislative branches.
  • Developing policies and procedures to ensure compliance with labor and employment law requirements.
  • Conducting effective investigations of alleged unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
  • Advising employers on defending charges of discrimination before the EEOC and state and local fair employment practices agencies.
  • Advising federal contractors on OFCCP-enforced affirmative action obligations.
  • Performing self-critical analyses and internal audits of employment policies and practices for clients.

Rae previously served for more than a decade as the senior vice president and general counsel of the Center for Workplace Compliance, the preeminent national employer association formerly known as the Equal Employment Advisory Council (EEAC). There, she advocated for the development of sound workplace policy in the courts and before federal regulatory agencies, including authoring numerous amicus curiae briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts of appeals. Rae also authored comments and testified before the U.S. Congress and the EEOC on a range of equal employment opportunity and workplace compliance matters.

As a member of the EEOC's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, Rae helped guide development of a detailed set of recommendations to help employers prevent workplace harassment. The recommendations were released in June 2016, ahead of the international #MeToo movement.

Rae is a nationally recognized speaker and author on labor and employment issues. Her thought leadership has been featured in media including Bloomberg Law, Law360, National Law Journal, National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour, Politico, and Reuters.


Richard J. Mrizek is a Trial Attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Chicago District Office.  With the Commission, Richard has litigated discrimination cases concerning race, national origin, sex, religion, disability, and retaliation.  Richard presents regularly on issues of employment discrimination law. 

Richard has worked on significant class litigation, successfully obtaining a $6 million settlement and significant policy changes in the criminal background check disparate impact case of EEOC v. Dollar General, an $11 million settlement for racial harassment and discrimination claims in EEOC v. Yellow Freight, a $2.75 million settlement for racial harassment and retaliation claims in EEOC. WRS, and a $10 million settlement of racial harassment and discrimination claims in EEOC v. Roadway Express.  Richard successfully tried EEOC’s contempt action in EEOC v. Supervalu which resulted in the award of backpay, fees, and an extension of the consent decree.  He has successfully tried federal jury cases, including EEOC v. Custom Companies, in which the agency won a $2.3 million jury verdict for three women and successfully placed the defendant under a four-year injunction and EEOC v. Costco, which resulted in a $250,000 verdict for a single victim. 

Prior to joining the EEOC, Richard worked in the Labor and Employment group of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C. Richard was an ABA Government Labor Employment Fellow from 2004-2006.  In 2007, Richard received the Chair’s Excellence in Leadership Award for his work in the Custom case.  Richard received a B.A. from Northwestern University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.  


Sara Elder is Vice President, Operations at Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. In this role, she oversees Sedgwick’s Centralized ADA Management Team. Prior to assuming this position, Ms. Elder led the administration of short-term disability, leave, and ADA claims for select client programs. Ms. Elder is also a lecturer on Employment Law at North Park University’s School of Business and Nonprofit Management.

Before joining Sedgwick, Ms. Elder was Divisional Vice President, Associate Relations and Compliance for Sears Holdings Management Corporation. In this and other roles, Ms. Elder oversaw the leave and accommodations management, employee relations, labor relations, associate services, HR policy, HR compliance, and discrimination charge management functions for Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Kmart Corporation and their subsidiary companies.

Ms. Elder also served as Assistant General Counsel, Complex Litigation for Sears, Roebuck and Co., with a focus on class action and commercial litigation, and employment practices. She joined Sears following eight years of private practice, concentrating in the areas of commercial litigation, employment practices, and creditors’ rights.

Ms. Elder has frequently presented and trained on the issues of leave and accommodations management. In 2012, Ms. Elder was named one of the “Top 100 Under 50 Diverse Executive & Emerging Leaders” by Diversity MBA Magazine.

Ms. Elder graduated from DePaul University College of Law, where she was editor-in-chief of the DePaul Business Law Journal, and received her undergraduate degree in history and sociology from Washington University in St. Louis summa cum laude.


Thomas G. Hancuch is a Shareholder in the Chicago office of Vedder Price P.C.  He has been advising employers on Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) compliance issues since the ADA’s enactment in 1990.

Mr. Hancuch’s practice focuses on representing employers in all aspects of employment and employee benefits law, including EEO compliance, workplace accommodations, leaves of absence and disability benefits administration, employee benefit plan design and administration, and other human resources matters. 

Mr. Hancuch has been recognized for his expertise in Chambers USA Client’s Guide to Leading Lawyers for Business, The Legal 500, and Super Lawyers.  In 2015 he was inducted as a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel.  He has served as co-chair of several subcommittees of the American Bar Association’s Section of Labor and Employment Law, including the Subcommittee on Employee Benefits and Employment Discrimination.  Mr. Hancuch also served as an editor of Employee Benefits Law (3d edition), a leading legal treatise published by Bloomberg BNA.  He is a regular speaker on employment law and employee benefits topics.

Mr. Hancuch received his undergraduate degree, with high honors, from the University of Notre Dame, and his law degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Wisconsin Law School.


Over her 20-year career as an employment litigator and advisor, Cardelle has concentrated her practice on employment relations litigation and counseling matters. She has significant experience representing clients in the medical device, pharmaceutical, food service, financial service, and transportation industries.

Cardelle Spangler has represented clients in complex class action, collective action, multi-plaintiff, and single plaintiff employment litigation. She has substantial trial experience before state and federal courts, as well as arbitrators. She has successfully defended collective action lawsuits brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act; class action lawsuits brought under ERISA alleging breaches of fiduciary duties against corporate and individual defendants; claims brought under ERISA for denial of benefits and discrimination; claims brought under various state and federal statutes for age, race, sex, color, religion, and disability discrimination and/or harassment; and common law and/or statutory claims for unfair competition, misappropriation of trade secrets, and various torts. Cardelle has also conducted harassment and other investigations, drafted employment and independent contractor agreements, and conducted labor and employment training.

In 2010, Cardelle was appointed by a federal judge to serve as compliance administrator for the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. Her responsibilities include(d), among other things, adjudicating employee claims of unlawful political discrimination, including awarding damages where appropriate; training the Recorder, supervisors and employees on unlawful political discrimination; monitoring and reporting on employment actions of the office; drafting an employment plan for approval by the parties and the court to ensure proper policies and procedures are established and followed to help prevent unlawful political discrimination in the office; and filing periodic public reports with the court on the office’s progress toward substantially complying with the terms of the court’s order.