Alleging he was not paid enough for overtime he put in during a brief stint doing document review, a contract attorney employed by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan on a temporary basis last summer sued both the firm and legal staffing agency Providus in federal district court in Manhattan Monday.
William Henig alleges in his complaint that Quinn Emanuel and Providus violated overtime pay requirements laid out in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Henig, who filed the suit as a potential class action, claims he was placed with Quinn Emanuel by Providus in a temporary assignment that started in mid-August 2012 and lasted about six weeks. Henig spent that time "review[ing] documents for Quinn Emanuel relating to pending litigation," according to the complaint.
A Quinn Emanuel spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment on the suit. A Providus spokeswoman did not respond to The Am Law Daily‘s request for comment.
Henig, who is currently working as a solo practitioner, is represented by Joseph & Kirschenbaum partner D. Maimon Kirschenbaum. (As The Am Law Daily has reported, Kirschenbaum is a 2005 Fordham Law School graduate who has quickly made a name for himself by going after big-name targets in wage-and-hour disputes and a special knack for representing employees in suits against such famed New York restauranteurs as Mario Batali and Keith McNally.)
In his suit, which claims Quinn and Providus functioned as "joint employers" under the FLSA, Henig says he received an hourly wage from the defendants and generally worked 57 to 60 hours each week. Henig alleges he was paid his regular hourly wage for the hours he worked in excess of 40 hours each week, as opposed to the one-and-a-half times that amount required under FLSA overtime rules. (The complaint does not specify how much Henig was paid per hour.)
Henig’s complaint claims that he, and potentially others, are due any unpaid wages with interest along with liquidated damages and attorneys fees. Kirschenbaum says his hope is that lawsuits like Henig’s can open the door for more claims to be brought against firms by contract attorneys seeking additional overtime pay. "The law firms bill significantly for this work. And, so, you’re charging $250 [or] $300 an hour for a contract attorney’s work—it’s not such a hit for you to have to be paying him $45 an hour for his overtime instead of $30 an hour," Kirschenbaum says.
The complaint notes "the extremely routine nature" of the work Henig performed during the six weeks he spent doing document review for Quinn as the reason why he is not exempt under FLSA rules, which provide exemptions to overtime rules for a range of employees—including those whose jobs require "advanced knowledge."
Kirschenbaum tells The Am Law Daily that the FLSA exemptions will be the primary point of contention in the litigation, with the court left to decide "if the level of work [Henig] was doing rises to the level of practicing law or whether, as we claim, the routine nature of it regards it as not being the practice of law but just, certainly, routine work."
In 2010, another Kirschenbaum client—also a contract attorney—brought a suit against Labaton Sucharow claiming he had not been adequately paid for overtime work he did for that firm. That case was settled later that year under terms that were not disclosed.
Says Kirschenbaum: "If there’s one profession that should get it right when it comes to paying their employees, it’s the legal profession."