Three at Akin Gump Named by Daily Journal as Among California’s Top Labor Lawyers

(Los Angeles and San Francisco) – Daily Journal has selected Akin Gump labor and employment partners Gregory Knopp, Gary McLaughlin and Donna Mezias for its annual selection of the top labor and employment lawyers in California, the sixth time in the last seven years that Akin Gump labor lawyers have been honored by the publication.

Gregory Knopp

In its profile of Mr. Knopp, Daily Journal spotlighted what it calls his work “at the frontier of Private Attorney General Act [PAGA] law,” which, the publication notes, is a relatively new form of action that has some similarities to class actions, as well as some significant differences.

He is noted as representing long-time firm client Starbucks in two PAGA actions by the coffee giant’s California workers, including Carrington v. Starbucks Corp., which, Mr. Knopp said, “is significant because we are litigating the issue of the proper scope of discovery in PAGA actions and what it means to be a representative plaintiff and how courts should manage PAGA cases.”

He added, “Plaintiffs like PAGA to avoid some class action rules. The [state] Supreme Court ruled that not all class action rules apply, which is favorable to employees. But the courts haven’t clarified how exactly such cases should proceed. As defense lawyers, we are arguing that some due process considerations ought to apply. Essentially, we’re trying to apply the Class Action Fairness Act to PAGA.” Mr. Knopp believes that the Fairness Act levels the field, noting that class action rules protect the defense’s due process right to present its evidence.

Gary McLaughlin

Daily Journal focused on Mr. McLaughlin’s successful work on potential class actions for national retailer Michaels Stores Inc., obtaining dismissal in a case involving claims of violations of California employment law regarding vacation policy. He said, “There were straightforward Labor Code claims plus a series of common law breach of contract and unfair competition claims. We were able to whittle them down via three motions to dismiss.”

One breakthrough in the case was his team’s discovery that only full-time Michaels employees got vacation pay. Mr. McLaughlin said, “The plaintiffs’ lawyers thought it was all employees, even part-timers. That helped narrow the potential class.” Regarding his team’s defeat of the Labor Code claims, he said, “Those claims attacked the company’s written policy, and it would have been an attractive part of a class action because the policy affected everybody. Our argument was that the policy was lawful, and we showed the court it was.”

He also described how the judge’s ruling narrowed the common law claims until they were individualized, which forced the plaintiff to reframe the case and allowed the client to favorably settle the remaining claims on an individual basis.

Donna Mezias

In profiling Ms. Mezias, Daily Journal spotlighted her work for Home Depot Inc. including one recent case in which she eliminated almost all of the plaintiffs’ liability theories in a complex wage and hour potential class action. She said, “The plaintiffs filed for class certification, and their motion changed their theories of liability. We protested, and while we didn’t think that bait and switch was kosher, ultimately it didn’t matter,” as she filed a motion for summary judgment.

Another set of potential class actions against Home Depot involved the relationship between the client and its service providers, plaintiffs asserting that the company was liable for the acts of its vendors’ delivery drivers and installers. Her three victories for the client, Daily Journal characterizes as “critical to Home Depot’s business model” because of the company’s thousands of contracted service providers nationwide. Ms. Mezias said, “The court looks at the control of the alleged employer over the workers involved. Home Depot holds its service providers to certain performance standards, but it does not have a direct relationship with the service providers’ workers. It doesn’t hire or supervise them, and the courts could see that.”

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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