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In 1999, Grace Speights was asked to help build Morgan, Lewis & Bockius’ complex employment litigation practice. Although the 47-year-old has been a Morgan, Lewis litigator for 20 years, the switch she made to employment litigation is getting her noticed by corporate counsel around the country. “We want to be on every company’s short list for these employment litigation class actions,” Speights says. Indeed, that wish seems to be coming true. Just two years after making her move, Speights found herself representing 18 television studios, networks, and production companies, including DreamWorks SKG, CBS, and Paramount Pictures, in one of the largest class actions ever filed in California. Along with partner George Stohner, Speights was defending the companies in an age discrimination class action filed in Los Angeles federal court by 53 television writers over the age of 40 who claimed they were denied jobs writing for shows aimed at young audiences. The federal case was dismissed, but nearly 200 writers filed 23 separate class actions — six of them against Morgan, Lewis clients — in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The judge dismissed those suits in January. “Essentially, you had every major company in the television industry involved as a defendant in this case,” says Speights. “The exposure and the implications for the industry as a whole . . . if the case was successful, were tremendous.” Speights boasts a roster of employment class actions that are among the largest of their kind filed in the past several years. More important to clients, though, Speights and her group have been successful in warding off class actions for clients like the Wachovia Corp., Merck & Co., and Agilent Technologies. Speights, a 1982 graduate of the George Washington University National Law Center, joined Morgan, Lewis’ litigation practice in 1984 after a clerkship for the late Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She became the firm’s first African-American woman partner in 1991. By the mid-1990s, traditional management-side labor firm Morgan, Lewis was seeing demand for employment litigation capability swell. A few years later the firm asked Speights and West Coast partner Stohner to build a complex employment litigation practice. Now Speights and Stohner are gearing up for another battle in the TV writers case. Arguments on the appeal in California are expected to begin in June. Speights is also representing the BellSouth Corp. in a class action, Jenkins, et al. v. BellSouth Telecommunications, filed on behalf of a potential class of about 20,000 African-American employees claiming a pattern and practice of race discrimination. Speights is in discovery for class certification in the case, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Clients say she’s an effective advocate. Paul Stagliano, chief labor and employment counsel for BellSouth, says Speights “delivers the best in client service.” Although litigation is by nature an adversarial practice, Stagliano says Speights is uniquely noncombative: “She has a very direct and forthright style. I haven’t come across anyone who doesn’t respect Grace.”

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