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CLE Sneak Peek: Changing Currents in Employment Law 2015

By District of Columbia Bar

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Andrew W. Witkos, an associate at The Employment Law Group, takes a few minutes to discuss with R. Scott Oswald the upcoming course “Changing Currents in Employment Law,” which Oswald will chair and moderate. The course has been hosted by the D.C. Bar Continuing Legal Education Program for nearly a decade now.

According to Oswald, every year “the Washington area’s leading employment law practitioners from both the management and employee bar who offer an overview of the most important trends affecting employees, employers, and their counsel” come together to “discuss recent court decisions and legislation that affect the way we practice law.”

Oswald also shares with Witko what attendees can expect to learn, what those at different practice area experience levels can gain from the course, and why employment litigation is “rarely black and white.”

AW: Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself and your practice?

RO: I began practicing law in 1997. I have brought more than 40 jury trials to verdict and litigated in countless more. My firm – The Employment Law Group – is dedicated to representing employees who claim wrongdoing by their employers under whistleblower and civil rights laws.

AW: I know that a number of people come back to this CLE year after year. For those who have attended before, how will this year’s offering be different than in years past?

RO: All of our panelists are exceptional and the topics that they will cover are eminently relevant to both general practitioners and those who focus their efforts on employment law.

One panel that I am very excited about and which is a slight deviation from the way that we have functioned in the past is the panel with Jenn [Klar] and Carter [DeLorme]. Jenn and Carter, each fabulous attorneys and presenters in their own right, will be accompanied by Maria Morocco from the EEOC and will be presenting on how government involvement in a case affects the way that the parties litigate.

I think it will be enormously helpful for attendees to hear from both Jenn and Carter about how they work with and against the government, but of equal importance, hearing just how the government looks at a case and determines when, if, or how it will be involved is going to be invaluable for attendees.

This is an area that often feels like a black box for attorneys and pulling back the curtain on this process, I think, will be of great interest.

AW: What can attendees expect to learn by attending this panel?

RO: While we do focus on the law and substantive changes over the last year, I think one of the most important benefits to attending this CLE is the practical tips that our panelists provide.

As I mentioned, we have highly accomplished practitioners serving as panelists who are prepared to share the wealth of experience that they have developed from years – and even decades – inside and outside of the courtroom.

Sure, we want attendees to walk away from the panel with a clearer understanding of changes to the law, but, of equal importance, we want them to leave feeling more confident when they are in the courtroom, dealing with opposing counsel, or even just advising their clients.

AW: You referenced the fact that this CLE really tries to offer practitioners “practical tips,” rather than just focusing exclusively on substantive areas of the law. Can you give me any examples of the type of practical tips that an attendee will take with him or her from this year’s panels?

RO: Wonderful question. And, I think that one of this year’s panels illustrates exactly the point that I’m trying to make. This year, we have Andrew Dansicker and Thomas McCalley presenting on “How to Value an Employment Case in 2015.”

I work on the employee’s side and one of the first questions that I routinely get from a client – even before “How much is this going to cost me?” – is “What do you think my case is worth?” Obviously, you cannot make any guarantees to a client, but you should have some rough idea about the value of a client’s case and be able to offer a range or recommendation.

Andrew is an exceptional attorney, and I, personally, look forward to seeing how he deals both with his employee clients as well as with defense counsel.

Tom is also a fabulous attorney and I think that hearing from him about how he values a case and counsels companies that are facing litigation will be a valuable lesson for both employee and employer counsel.

As a plaintiff’s side attorney, it would be fabulous to know exactly what a defendant is thinking when we file a complaint or offer up a number for settlement. This is the type of insight that Tom is going to provide.

AW: This sounds like something that may be designed more for the experienced employment law practitioner. Does the attendee need to have an intimate knowledge of employment laws in order to get the most out of the panel?

RO: Not at all. And, I think this point is one of the biggest benefits of Changing Currents. There is information that will be relevant to everyone – from counsel with years of experience in litigating employment matters to the generalist who may only touch on employment issues once or twice a year.

As far as the latter group is concerned, we have Kara Ariail and Carla Brown discussing strategies for dealing with trade secret litigation. These issues really transcend what is typically thought of as “employment law” and I think that a general understanding is important to any practitioner.

AW: Well, what can more experienced practitioners get out of attending?

RO: Though we certainly keep the less experienced attorneys in mind, Changing Currents is really ideal for those practitioners who spend their careers focusing on the employment law arena. Panelists go into great detail about the intricacies and nuances of the various statutes under which we all operate.

For example, Sharon Gusfason and Susan Carnell, will be presenting on recent Supreme Court cases dealing with reasonable accommodations. Susan is a fabulous attorney who has represented employers in numerous cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act and Sharon is counsel for Peggy Young in the Young v. UPS case before the Supreme Court.

Understanding how these two wonderful attorneys deal with negotiations and litigation involving the ADA and reasonable accommodations will be as fascinating as it is informative for attendees.

Likewise, I will be presenting with Tina Kearns on compliance programs in the workplace. We will discuss how these programs are implemented, how employees navigate these programs, and what employers should do when responding to employee concerns and disclosures.

AW: If you could leave readers with one message about "Changing Currents", what would it be?

RO: Employment litigation is rarely black and white. It requires a detailed understanding of the law as well as diligent and, often times, creative advocacy by attorneys. I think that Changing Currents and, more importantly, our excellent panelists do a phenomenal job of both providing a review of substantive law and identifying tips and “best practices” for counsel. I am confident that there is something for everyone who will attend.

More about the course: “Changing Currents in Employment Law” will be held Tuesday, October 20, 2015 from 6:00 pm to 9:15 pm. 3.0 CLE Credit Hours.