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Heller Faces Class Action Suit by Laid-Off EmployeesSuit over pay proposes various classes potentially covering 'hundreds' of staff and associates
Three laid-off Heller Ehrman employees filed a class action complaint against the dissolving firm on Monday, asking for a jury trial over pay. The complaint proposes various classes, to potentially cover "hundreds" who have been or will be terminated. An attorney for the plaintiffs alleges that Heller failed to pay wages to its terminated employees that it owed in accordance with the federal and California WARN Acts, vacation laws in California, and Heller's own employee "contracts" on vacation payouts.
The Recorder2008-10-21 12:00:00 AM
Three laid-off Heller Ehrman employees filed a class action complaint against the dissolving firm on Monday, asking for a jury trial over money they feel they should still be paid.
The complaint proposes various classes, to potentially cover "hundreds" of staff and associates who have been or will be terminated since shortly after the firm's vote to dissolve.
"Our clients and the putative class have served Heller Ehrman faithfully for years, and now Heller Ehrman has sent them packing without paying out what they owe," said Matthew Helland, the Nichols Kaster attorney who filed the claim in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday afternoon. The Nichols Kaster team also includes James Kaster and Paul Lukas, both of whom work in the employment boutique's Minneapolis office.
Helland alleges that Heller terminated its employees without paying them wages owed in accordance with the federal and California WARN Acts, vacation laws in California, and Heller's own employee "contracts" governing vacation payouts.
Heller terminated most of its remaining employees in mass layoffs each of the last two Fridays.
The named plaintiffs are Laura Werth, a technology assistant in San Francisco who joined the firm in September 1996; Carl Goodman, a senior manager of business development in Seattle who joined the firm in September 2005; and Anna Scarpa, a manager of professional services who joined the firm in October 2006. Werth and Goodman were laid off on Oct. 10, while Scarpa was laid off Oct. 17.
The firm and its entities -- Heller is composed of a series of professional corporations -- are listed as defendants in the suit. That list includes Heller's operations in China, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and New York.
Vacation claims are being pursued in Washington, California and New York, but more locations may be added to the list, Helland said.
While Helland wouldn't speculate as to how large the affected class could be, the complaint suggests that "hundreds of people satisfy the definition of the Proposed Classes" with a potential WARN Act claim.
"We believe we fall under the jurisdiction for the Class Action Fairness Act," Helland said, suggesting the stakes are at least $5 million.
Three members of Heller's dissolution committee who were called late in the day on Monday did not immediately return phone calls, or did not comment.
The firm's partnership voted to dissolve on Sept. 26. Shortly thereafter, partners began moving to new firms in droves, taking along some associates and staff. Many, however, stayed behind.
In addition to the WARN Act and vacation claims, the plaintiffs also allege that Heller owes California employees for its "willful failure to timely pay all wages owed," in violation of the state's Labor Code.