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Fred Alvarez and his gang of employment lawyers at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati haven’t had to worry about their courtroom skills getting dusty this year. Alvarez, a Wilson partner, says his group’s corporate clients are facing far more tenacious litigants than in the past. Back in 2001, Wilson’s employment litigators had no trials or arbitrations. This year, they’ve had four. In September, Alvarez wrapped up a trial involving a technology client with operations in Huntsville, Alabama. He also won an arbitration brought against a client by an executive fired after a company was acquired. The increasingly dogged pursuit of employment claims seems to stem from the crummy job market for technology executives, according to Alvarez. “These days, there are fewer places to go and there are more incentives to litigate on the hope they’ll hit the jackpot,” he says. “These are highly paid guys looking for lots of money.” The dot-com bubble had barely burst before laid off or fired employees started demanding big chunks of stock as severance. By late summer of 2000, employment lawyers on both plaintiffs and defense sides were being inundated with inquiries or calls from clients. Ex-employees claimed they were misled when the companies they joined failed to go public or score a big round of venture financing. At the time, employers could pay off workers with stock. Now, however, technology stocks are moribund, and employees want cash, says Alvarez. What’s more, the type of employee suing companies has changed. Instead of hordes of laid-off workers who filed claims because their companies folded, the new plaintiffs are more likely to be senior managers displaced by a merger or acquisition. While a laid-off worker was much more likely to take a stock settlement, that’s not so true for executives. They are more likely to claim that the job at the newly combined company wasn’t what was promised, says Alvarez. These ex-employees are seeking fat, one-time payments and are willing to take their disputes to trial instead of agreeing to smaller settlements. “It’s harder for even them to find new jobs,” adds Alvarez. “Hitting it big now is getting a big severance package.”

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