Erin M. Connell

Employment Law
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Erin M. Connell is a partner in the San Francisco office and a member of the Employment Law Group. Orrick’s Employment Law Group was recently named Labor & Employment Department of the Year in California by The Recorder, the premier source for legal news, in recognition of their significant wins on behalf of leading multinational companies on today’s most complex and challenging employment law matters.

Erin’s practice covers all aspects of employment law, as well as complex business litigation outside the employment context. Erin has defended numerous class actions, EEOC systemic discrimination investigations, and complex individual cases involving claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, unpaid overtime, missed meal and rest breaks, and other alleged wage-and-hour violations. She also regularly advises clients with respect to OFCCP audits, and conducts internal audits covering compensation, hiring, promotions, and reductions in force. Erin also assists clients in developing compensation policies and compliance measures designed to reduce potential exposure.

Erin is also an accomplished trial lawyer, and has tried several cases before juries and in arbitration.  Additionally, Erin successfully has obtained numerous defense summary judgment rulings and other favorable resolutions in state and federal court.

Representative clients include: Facebook, Oracle, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Citigroup, The Home Depot, CVS Caremark, Williams Sonoma, Varian Medical Systems, CoorsTek and Seagate Technology.

Notable engagements include:

Morgan Stanley

  • Obtained summary judgment and defeated class certification in wage-and-hour class action alleging compelled patronage in violation of California law and various Labor Code claims.
  • Defeated class certification in wage-and-hour class action challenging the exempt status of financial advisors and alleging unpaid business expenses.
  • Successfully resolved three related complex individual charges alleging breach of contract, wrongful termination, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation and compensation-related claims.
  • Defended numerous complex individual cases involving all types of employment-related claims, including claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, breach of contract and wage-and-hour violations.

The Home Depot.

  • Successfully resolved wage-and-hour class action involving claims of unpaid overtime, meal and rest break penalties and other wage-and-hour violations based on alleged misclassification of independent contractors.

Bank of America.

  • Defended numerous complex individual cases involving all types of employment-related claims, including claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, breach of contract and wage-and-hour violations.

Wyndham Vacation Ownership, Inc.

  • Successfully tried and/or resolved claims of ten plaintiffs alleging discrimination, retaliation, harassment, wrongful termination and related claims.

EEOC/OFCCP representative matters include:

  • EEOC Commissioner’s charge alleging nationwide race and national origin discrimination in hiring.
  • Nationwide EEOC investigation alleging race and national origin discrimination in the use of criminal background checks.
  • Nationwide EEOC investigation alleging systemic failure to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
  • Multiple simultaneous OFCCP audits assessing affirmative action compliance and potential systemic discrimination in hiring, promotions and compensation.
  • Multiple OFCCP audits and threatened DOL litigation alleging systemic gender and race discrimination in hiring.
  • Ongoing OFCCP/EEO compliance counseling for numerous clients, with a particular emphasis on recruiting, hiring, compensation and promotions.

Erin frequently speaks on California and national employment law issues, and has published numerous articles on employment law in publications around the country. She also provides training on managing within the law and preventing sexual harassment, and conducts internal investigations on employment-related matters.

Erin Connell

Big Data, Big Problems: The Liability Pitfall Lurking Beneath the Shiny Surface of “People Analytics”

The use of big data in employment decisions—a practice often referred to as “people analytics”—has exploded in recent years. Lately, however, the concept is gaining more and more attention not only for its appeal of faster and more efficient hiring, but also for the significant risks it can pose. One key risk is the potential for a disparate impact claim, particularly on a class-wide basis. So while proponents of using software tools and algorithms to identify and select job candidates claim people analytics is more efficient and effective than traditional recruiting and selection procedures, employers should take care when choosing tools and vendors, and should proactively monitor their implementation to avoid big liability.

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EEOC Rules that Sexual Orientation Discrimination is Sex Discrimination Under Title VII

On the heels of the landmark decision by the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage, the EEOC held on July 15, 2015 that sex discrimination under Title VII includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Even though the decision is not binding precedent in federal court, and runs contrary to a significant body of case law holding that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it could be regarded by some courts as persuasive authority.  The decision could also have an impact on employers in the form of an increased number of administrative charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC based on sexual orientation, as courts determine whether to adopt the EEOC’s interpretation.

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Is Your Wellness Program Healthy? EEOC Provides Much Needed Guidance in Proposed Rule

On April 16, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a proposed rule addressing how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to wellness programs that are part of group health plans and that include medical examinations or questions about employees’ health. Although not final and still open for public comment, this proposed rule provides important guidelines for employers in administering wellness programs.

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Employers Finally Get a Break—Court Reverses $90 Million Verdict and Holds That Employers Are Not Required to Relieve Employees of All Duty During Rest Periods

On December 31, 2014, the Court of Appeal for the Second District of California held in an unpublished opinion that employers are not required to relieve employees of all duty during rest periods mandated by California state law.  In so holding, the court in Augustus v. ABM Sec. Servs., Inc., No. B243788, 2014 WL 7463154 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 31, 2014), reversed the trial court’s award of approximately $90 million dollars in statutory damages, interest, penalties, and attorneys’ fees to the employees.

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Federal Contractors: In the Line of Regulatory Fire

On October 10, 2014, the White House hosted a listening session regarding President Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” Executive Order (discussed in detail in a prior Orrick Employment blog post here), one of many new laws imposing significant new requirements on federal contractors. Representatives of the Professional Services Council met with Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and White House officials to urge changes to the Order, which (among other things) requires prospective federal contractors and subcontractors to track and report a comprehensive list of labor and employment law violations, bars larger existing contractors from requiring pre-dispute arbitration agreements of certain claims (including claims under Title VII), and requires contractors to provide employees with additional information on overtime and hours worked in paychecks. Read More

At Long Last, OFCCP Announces OMB Approval of a New Scheduling Letter and Itemized Listing

More than three years after the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) first announced its intent to issue a new Scheduling Letter and Itemized Listing, the Agency finally has obtained approval to do so from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  The OFCCP’s Scheduling Letter provides a contractor with notice of its selection for a compliance evaluation (audit), and the Itemized Listing constitutes OFCCP’s standard initial request for submission of the contractor’s Affirmative Action Plan and supporting personnel activity and compensation data.  OFCCP announced the OMB approval in a September 30, 2014 Notice, and published the final versions of the Scheduling Letter and Itemized Listing on October 1, 2014.

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PDA and Young: Pregnancy Discrimination Law to Break from Its Infancy

On the heels of the Hobby Lobby decision in late June, the Supreme Court has signaled that women’s health issues in the workplace will continue to be a central issue by granting a petition for certiorari in Young v. United Parcel Service on July 1, 2014.  In Young, the Court will examine whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), which provides that pregnant women “shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes…as other persons…similar in their ability or inability to work,” requires employers to provide work accommodations to pregnant women to the same extent they provide them to other disabled workers.  The Court’s review of Young comes at a time when pregnancy discrimination laws are gaining more attention and more traction, and litigation in this area is increasing.

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Did the EEOC Try Hard Enough to Resolve Your Case Before Filing Suit?

March, 2014, three powerful business groups urged the U.S. Supreme Court to consider an important issue at stake for employers in Mach Mining LLC v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—can courts review the adequacy of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC’s”) conciliation efforts prior to filing suit? In Mach Mining, the Seventh Circuit held “no,” although six other circuits to address this issue have acknowledged an employer’s ability to raise failure to conciliate as an affirmative defense. If the Supreme Court grants Mach Mining’s February 25, 2014 petition for review, the ruling could have significant impact for employers facing potential litigation with the EEOC. Read More

Off the Playground, Out of the Locker Room, and into the Office: How to Combat Workplace Bullies

The Miami Dolphins recently have come under intense scrutiny amid allegations that coaches encouraged defensive guard Richie Icognito to bully teammate Jonathan Martin in an effort to “toughen” him up. The alleged bullying was so severe, including threats of violence and racially derogatory statements, that Martin left the team, the NFL launched an investigation, and the Dolphins suspended Incognito indefinitely. While it may have taken this locker room scandal to bring bullying into the public eye, the legal and practical ramifications of workplace bullying are common, and employers can learn many lessons from this case. Read More

NLRB Continues to Hold Firm on D.R. Horton Reasoning Despite Contrary Decisions in the Courts

Despite increasing rejection of the NLRB’s controversial D.R. Horton decision by almost all federal courts which have considered it, an NLRB administrative law judge recently felt there was no choice but to follow Board precedent and so applied and affirmed its holding. These cases illustrate the growing divide between the NLRB and courts over the D.R. Horton decision and the growing trend of federal courts refusing to uphold its enforcement. Read More