Clients sometimes come to my office, convinced they have an unassailable lawsuit. They cannot lose. They are certain they have the best evidence. But, in litigation, nothing is ever certain. In the case of Knepper v. Ogletree Deakins, Nash. Smoak & Stewart, P.C., No. 19-CV-0060 (C.D. Calif.), much has gone wrong. Dawn Knepper, who practiced here in San Antonio before she moved to Orange County, California, sued her employer, Ogletree Deakins for gender bias. The Plaintiff alleged violations of the Equal pay Act. She filed her suit in 2018.
In March, 2019, the California court ruled that Ms. Knepper must pursue her claims in arbitration. She had apparently not opted out of a firm-wide arbitration agreement. Ms. Knepper testified that she did not recall any such email asking her to either sign the arbitration agreement or to opt out. The former employer presented evidence indicating that she did receive the emails sent to all Ogletree Deakins employees. The 2016 emails was sent to all staff. In 2014, the law firm had started a similar arbitration program for equity shareholders. Of course, the firm described the program as an “Open Door Policy and Mutual Arbitration Agreement.”
There was evidence of an email from Ms. Knepper in 2016 saying she would turn in her form tomorrow. But, in 2019, she had no recollection of that email. Dawn Knepper was intended to be the class representative for a class action lawsuit against the Ogletree law firm.
The lawsuit was originally filed in the Northern District of California. But, based on those arbitration agreements, the employer sought a transfer to the Central District of California. The Plaintiff then tried to amend the claims, so as to strengthen the venue in northern California. At that point, Ogletree said if Knepper has a binding arbitral agreement, then amendment would be futile. See Bloomberg news report.
Later, the plaintiff tried to add three other female plaintiffs, based in Colorado and Texas. But, on July 30, the Central District dismiss those claims with prejudice and allowed the three women to withdraw their intervention in the Knepper lawsuit. Those three women then filed a separate class action lawsuit in California state district court in January, 2019. See ABA Bar Journal news report.
Yes, amigos, lawsuits can go wrong in a variety of ways. And, these were the experts. Dawn Knepper, like the Ogletree form itself, are employment law specialists. One notable allegation in the new lawsuit:
“On information and belief, when a female shareholder asked the Managing Shareholder of the Firm, Defendant Matt Keen, about the Firm’s response to gender discrimination complaints made by female employees, he explained: “we’re not real good at practicing what we preach.”
If true, that does not bode well for the employer.