Alison S. Hightower enjoys helping employers resolve employment disputes using a practical approach that involves early evaluation to determine the most cost-effective strategy. Successful in counseling employers to minimize the risk of litigation and defending employers in lawsuits, Alison litigates before California state and federal courts in individual and class actions. She has obtained summary judgment, injunctions, and reasonable settlements for clients, involving issues arising under:
- State and federal wage and hour regulation
- The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and similar state laws
- Misclassification of exempt employees
- Employee and independent contractor classification
- Meal and rest breaks
- Off-the-clock work
- Regular rate calculation
- Rounding of time
- Protection of trade secrets
- Workplace investigations
- Disability discrimination
- The Americans with Disabilities Act
Alison has experience litigating large wage and hour class actions and those brought under California's Private Attorney General Act. She also has prosecuted lawsuits to enjoin competitors who stole customer lists, trade secrets and other confidential information from their former employers. Select examples of Alison’s successes in class actions include:
- On the eve of a recent trial, Alison defeated a certified class action alleging invasion of privacy by hundreds of unionized workers challenging their employer’s random drug testing program. She whittled the claims down, obtaining numerous dispositive rulings that prevented a class trial. The trial court agreed that the class’ privacy invasion claims were preempted by federal labor laws since the drug testing program was implemented with the union’s consent. The trial court also granted summary judgment on claims of discrimination and “forced medical testing.”
- Alison and the Littler team defeated a class action by truck drivers claiming over $6 million for missed meal periods. The trial court agreed the employees voluntarily chose to forego meal periods and rejected the plaintiffs' expert statistical evidence.
- Alison obtained voluntary dismissals of two putative class actions by disgruntled former employees seeking to represent state-wide classes for pay due to missed meal and rest periods and off-the-clock work. In one case, she obtained helpful rulings from the court that caused the plaintiff to dismiss some of his claims before discovery commenced. In both cases, her aggressive pre-trial strategy forced the plaintiffs to defend their claims before they began burdensome discovery into her client’s policies and practices. Rather than provide evidence to support their claims, both plaintiffs chose to dismiss their cases for no consideration.
- As part of the Littler team, Alison reversed certification of a California class of loan officers in the Ninth Circuit, which reversed a line of district court cases certifying classes on an estoppel theory.
Another area of law in which Alison has developed significant experience and skill is background checks. She advises and represents employers to navigate the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and various state and local laws which impose limitations on employers’ ability to screen their workforce.
- She recently obtained a transfer of venue to a favorable forum in a putative nationwide and state class action seeking statutory and actual damages under the FCRA and a plethora of other laws.
- Alison was an integral part of the Littler team that negotiated a favorable settlement of a large nationwide class claiming a staffing agency’s consent form violated the FCRA, obviating expensive discovery and a class certification battle, and minimizing exposure.
- She currently is representing several nationwide clients, defending their use of “pre-adverse action notices” and authorization and disclosure forms under the FCRA.
- In 2014, she authored an amicus brief in the pending appeal in Moran v. The Screening Pros before the Ninth Circuit, which may resolve important issues of statutory interpretation.
In addition, Alison has significant knowledge of the evidentiary issues that arise in defending employment-related claims, including the use of computer forensics to recover electronic data. She steers clients through thorny issues to minimize the risk of expensive litigation and provides counseling to effect compliant employment practices, including the use of contingent workers and independent contractors. She counsels clients on employee discipline, termination, harassment and discrimination issues, as well as compliance with leaves of absence and laws protecting the disabled. She frequently works with:
- Financial institutions
- Public entities
- Service providers
- Staffing agencies
- Web-based businesses
Alison is a frequent speaker and author, often teaming up with others to provide a broader perspective. She has conducted series of webinars with a national payroll company to update clients of recent changes in federal employment laws. Prior to Littler, she was a partner at another firm where she was in charge of approving new client matters and the oversight of accounts receivable for the office.
PROFESSIONAL AND COMMUNITY AFFILIATIONS
- Member, Financial Women of San Francisco
- Member, Board of Directors
- Co-chair, Industry Leadership Programs
- Former chair, Professional Development, Diversity and Lifestyles Programs
- Member, Bar Association of San Francisco
- Former co-chair, Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee - Northern California Human Resources Association, East Bay Region
- Former member, Board of Directors - Northern California Human Resources Association, East Bay Region
- Volunteer, Head-Royce School Auction Committee, 2009-2011