January 28, 2017
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – The law firm of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, founded in 1888, is according to the National Law Journal, one of the nation’s top mid-size plaintiff’s firms.
It has an exceptional record in the fields of complex class action litigation, securities and corporate governance litigation on behalf of pension funds, wage and hour litigation, consumer fraud and unfair business practices and antitrust litigation. Of particular interest to the labor community is their record of success on behalf of workers. LaborPress spoke with two of the firm’s partners, Mark Rifkin and Regina Calcaterra, to learn more about the firm and its cases. Mr. Rifkin, Ms. Calcaterra, and firm partner Alex Schmidt will be ongoing contributors to LaborPress.
“The firm was founded in the nineteenth century,” said Rifkin, “as a general purpose firm, one of the oldest in New York City. We are coming up on our 130th anniversary next year. In the 1970’s we expanded in a niche area, ‘representative litigation,’ including class actions in a variety of fields – commercial, securities, labor, antitrust, intellectual property, consumer matters, and, in the last ten years, civil rights matters. We have worked on many fascinating and unique cases. I come to work every day excited.”
In the labor field, the firm has tackled Equal Pay Act cases, Wage and Hour cases, plant closings cases, and worker classification cases. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, and was aimed at abolishing wage disparity based on gender. The Wage and Hour Law refers to the various federal, state and local laws dealing with, among other things, the minimum amount an employee must be paid, whether they are entitled to increased pay (or “overtime”) for hours worked above a certain number per week, and how certain employees are classified, including whether they are “managers,” “administrative workers” or “independent contractors,” which can affect an employer’s requirement to pay employees overtime and also to provide certain benefits. In plant closing cases, workers are covered under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires most employers with 100 or more employees to provide sixty calendar-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs of employees, as defined in the Act. Worker classification concerns the proper classification of a worker as an employee or independent contractor, which can affect the benefits and monies that a worker is due.
Betsy Manifold, managing partner of the Firm’s all women California office, worked on the first case of its kind in the country that successfully classified truck drivers, who were formerly classified as independent contractors, as employees under the California Labor Code. The case was against Lowe’s Home Centers and was settled in 2008 on the eve of trial giving each driver an average recovery of over $5,500 with some getting as much as $80,000. “Truck drivers work very long hours,” said Rifkin, “and our firm was able to get straight pay and over time for them, as well as payroll benefits such as social security payments. Another partner, Jeff Smith in New York, brought several similar cases for stock brokers, and likewise was able to win them overtime pay.”
The firm has also litigated successfully for workers who lost their jobs as a result of plant closings. “We’ve succeeded in recovering for them including in the first case under the WARN Act where a class of employees collectively sued,” says Rifkin. “When a plant closes, the employer must provide certain benefits, but they don’t always comply. It’s a traumatic event when somebody loses their job. We’re there to mitigate the unnecessary adverse effects of the plant closure.”
Labor pension and health and welfare benefit funds play a significant role in Wolf Haldenstein’s investor-related practice areas, a role that is coordinated by Calcaterra. Pension funds invest in publicly traded companies based upon their publicly reported financial health, in anticipation of gaining long term investment returns for the funds. The better the returns, the more stable the pension fund will be to pay present and future beneficiaries. “When companies aren’t honest about what investors need to know, or there is mismanagement, that’s when we step in,” says Rifkin. “Pension funds are long-term investors and so the unions’ interest is to make sure they are managed well in the long haul.” Calcaterra added that “the Firm has obtained over $7 billion in recoveries for investors, including labor pension funds.”
Even some we don’t always think of as “workers,” such as sports players, are exploited. In 2016, Wolf Haldenstein filed a Wage and Hour class action against the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and PAC-12, a collegiate athletic conference that operates in the Western United States, on behalf of a former football player, alleging that the defendants failed to pay minimum wages to the plaintiff and all other PAC-12 football players in violation of California and federal laws. Says Rifkin, “College football is a big business for the NCAA’s top-tier Division I FBS teams. The athletes who play football for those teams, whose labor earns vast sums of money for the teams, the leagues, and the NCAA, must be compensated properly under state and federal law.”
“Our clients are always the underdog, and we always feel good when we can prevail over those who use their positions of wealth and power to disadvantage people who can’t otherwise protect themselves,” he adds.