Daily Journal Picks Two at Akin Gump Among California’s Top Labor and Employment Lawyers

(Los Angeles and San Francisco) – Daily Journal has once again selected Akin Gump labor and employment partners Gary McLaughlin and Donna Mezias for its annual list of the top labor and employment lawyers in California. This is the seventh time in the past eight years that Akin Gump labor lawyers have been honored by the publication.

Gary McLaughlin

In profiling Mr. McLaughlin, Daily Journal highlighted his work on behalf of Vicar Operating Inc., operator of VCA Hospitals, in a class action alleging off-the-clock work, unpaid overtime, missed meal and rest breaks, wage statement violations and Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) penalties on behalf of current and former California VCA employees. Mr. McLaughlin obtained summary judgment in the matter, dismissing the claims for failure to pay regular and overtime wages. The court then denied class certification, agreeing with Mr. McLaughlin’s argument that the question of why people did not get timely meal breaks was too individualized.

Mr. McLaughlin argued that the same holds true for PAGA claims, and that it would be impractical to bring in potentially thousands of witnesses to try to prove a violation. His motions to dismiss the remaining PAGA claims, which allow an “aggrieved employee” to sue on behalf of him or herself and other current and former employees to collect civil penalties for California Labor Code violations, are pending.

Discussing the case with Daily Journal, Mr. McLaughlin said, “It’s a representative action similar to a class action. The California Supreme Court decided sometime back that [PAGA claims] don’t have to meet the normal requirements of a class action. That allows plaintiffs, to a certain degree, to get around problems they might have with class certification.”

Donna Mezias

Ms. Mezias, Daily Journal notes, has handled several matters in the past year and a half on behalf of Home Depot, including joint employment litigation. She successfully defended the company, obtaining summary judgment on four cases and, in a separate one, eliminated five of the plaintiffs’ six liability theories in a complex wage and hour matter.

“Taking a very broad, complicated wage and hour case and getting it down to just one theory— that’s a good result for the client,” Ms. Mezias said, adding that the biggest challenge for California employers is staying ahead of potential litigation issues, which means keeping up with, and even anticipating, changing employment law—including PAGA representative actions.

“There’s very little law defining any sort of procedures or guidelines as to when those actions can be appropriately tried as representative actions, because PAGA is still relatively new,” she said, predicting that employers will continue to grapple with the uncertainties of PAGA for the next few years as cases work their way through the system and issues are resolved at the appellate level and California Supreme Court.

Founded in 1945, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP is a leading international law firm with more than 900 lawyers in offices throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

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