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Employment Group Of The Year: Outten & Golden

Law360—Dani Kass

Outten & Golden LLP convinced a jury that Computer Sciences Corp. misclassified its workers as overtime exempt and reached multimillion-dollar settlements on behalf of workers accusing Uber Technologies Inc. and Target Corp. of discrimination, earning it a spot as one of Law360’s Employment Groups of the Year.

All of the firm's 74 attorneys, spread across offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., work on plaintiff-side employment law. They largely focus on class actions, but some lawyers do represent individual workers.

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A Connecticut federal jury handed Outten & Golden one of its biggest wins of the year in December 2017. The firm was representing a class of current and former CSC employees who alleged the information technology services company wrongly classified them as overtime exempt.

After two days of deliberation, the jury unanimously ruled in the workers’ favor, and now CSC is looking at about $30 million in unpaid overtime and damages for the 1,000 or so class members.

“Its extremely rare for these cases to go to trial,” partner Jahan C. Sagafi, co-lead counsel on the trial, said. “There are hundreds or thousands of these cases each year and only one or two or three need to go to trial each year.”

In March, the firm secured a $10 million settlement with Uber over claims that the ride-sharing company paid its female software engineers and engineers of color less than their male, white or Asian American peers. The suit alleged that the workers were negatively impacted by a performance evaluation system in which supervisors rank their workers.

The settlement will be split by more than 400 workers who were part of a proposed class. The company also agreed to systemic changes, including working with an outside consultant to develop a new system for promoting, evaluating and compensating workers.

“The problem of discrimination in the tech world is particularly acute given the somewhat homogeneous male-dominated workforce, and this settlement reminds employers that workers will fight for justice when faced with harassment and discrimination," Sagafi said. "It also builds systemic protections in the company to prevent harassment and discrimination in the future."

A month later, Outten & Golden reached a $3.74 million settlement with Target, after suing over its use of criminal background checks. They alleged the checks discriminated against applicants who were black and Latino, and as part of the deal, Target agreed to change its hiring processes.

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Adam Klein, who took over as managing partner of the firm on Jan. 1, echoed that sentiment and said he hopes that having industry leaders like Target change their ways will encourage smaller companies down the line to do so as well.

Also in March, Outten & Golden secured partial class certification in a suit accusing Goldman Sachs of systematic gender bias. The firm is challenging an evaluation system that allegedly "systemically undervalues women's contribution to the bank," leading to women being paid lower and promoted less, Klein said.

The firm has also been bringing suit on behalf of military reservist pilots who say they were discriminated against when seeking employment in the private sector, in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

The firm reached a $19 million deal with Southwest Airlines Co. in September, after accusing the airline of not letting pilots accrue sick leave while on short-term military leave and not telling workers the extent of their benefits under a 401(k) matching program.

Similarly, in October Outten & Golden reached a $2 million settlement with military contractor L-3 Communications Corp. That October deal bars the company from asking applicants about military status before making conditional offers of employment in its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs.

"If you look at a lot of these settlements, you can see a common thread: Of course we want to help clients recover compensation they deserve, but first and foremost we want to make their lives better and make it easier for them to be pilots or engineers or store workers," Romer-Friedman said. "Everyone should have dignity on the job."