Overview

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
  • Manufacturers
  • 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 & 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

Publications & Press

Answers on mortgage deductions, vacations, homes in trusts

San Francisco Chronicle

December 10, 2014

Misclassification Gets More Expensive

The Recorder

January 3, 2012

Graniterock wins class action lunch break case

San Jose Mercury News

August 30, 2011

Reliance On Independent Contractors In A Recession: Ten Tips To Protect Your Company

Association for Corporate Counsel

October 2009

Alternatives to RIFS: Cutting Labor Cost Without Cutting Employees

American Bar Association Employment Law and Litigation

Summer 2009

Protecting Trade Secrets In The Computer Age: The Basics Of Computer Forensics

California Labor & Employment Bulletin

June 2008

What’s New In Wage And Hour Regulation: What You Need To Know To Minimize Exposure

Strategic Compensation Conference - Northern California Human Resources Association

December 2007

Computers and HR: Preserving Evidence, Protecting Trade Secrets and the Basics of Computer Forensics

Northern California Human Resources Association (NCHRA)

September 2007

Talking About Sex Does Not Necessarily Mean Sexual Harassment

HR West

July 10, 2006

Burden of Proof Needn't Stop Employers' Defense in Disability Bias Suits

The San Francisco Daily Journal

January 13, 2006

Employment Practices Liability Coverage: Time to Reevaluate Coverage to Consider Expanded Liability Laws

Employee Relations Law Journal

Summer 2004

New Law Expands Definition of Disability

San Fernando Valley Business Journal

June 10, 2001

Books & Book Chapters

  • Wage and Hour Answer Book, , White Collar Exemptions Updates, 2009-2011

Speaking Engagements

Culture And Compliance As To Wage And Hour Obligations: Enemies or Friends?

Replicon

March 11, 2015

Bring Your Own Device To Work: How Is Technology Changing The Demands On Employers?

Rotary Club of San Francisco

April 8, 2014

Worker Classification: A New Year, New Enforcement

Client Webinar

February 2, 2012

New Penalties for Misclassification of Independent Contractors: A Primer On S.B. 459

Bar Association of San Francisco

January 23, 2012

2011 California Legislative Update: What You Need To Know, Now

HR Options, Inc.

December 8, 2011

Hot Trends In An Era of New Enforcement: What Your Company Should Know To Protect Itself

ADP Client Webinars

March-November 2011

The Contingent Workforce

Labor and Employment Section Webinar - State Bar of California

July 12, 2011

Misclassifying Independent Contractors: Reducing Risk from New Increased Enforcement Measures

HR West Annual Conference - Northern California Human Resources Association

April 12, 2011

Crackdown on Misclassifying Independent Contractors

HR Options Webinar

June 24, 2010

The Whole Truth About Furloughs

Workforce Management Webinar

June 2009

Tactics For Trimming Employment Cost

Kennedy Information Webinar

April 2009

Sex Offenders, Terrorists and Video Resumes: How Far Can You Go To Get Information About Your Employees?

Northern California Employer Conference - Littler Mendelson

October 2008

An Update On The Family Medical Leave Act

2008 National Summit on Employment Law And Compliance

September 2008

An Update On Employment Laws Governing Meal/Rest Periods, Overtime And Exemptions

HR Star Conference

July 2008

Competitors Beware! Safeguarding Trade Secrets And The Basics Of Computer Forensics

Association for Corporate Growth

May 2008

What's New In Wage And Hour Regulation

Northern California Human Resources Association, East Bay Chapter

April 2008

What’s New In Wage And Hour Regulation: What You Need To Know To Minimize Exposure

Strategic Compensation Conference - Northern California Human Resources Association

December 2007

Best Policies and Practices To Avoid Unfair Competition

Northern California Employer Conference - Littler Mendelson

November 2007

Computers and HR: Preserving Evidence, Protecting Trade Secrets and the Basics of Computer Forensics

Annual Conference - Northern California Human Resources Association

September 2007

Winning The Battle Before It Begins: Best Policies and Practices To Avoid Unfair Competition Litigation

Littler Mendelson

June 2007

The Disabled Employee: Addressing Performance Issues and Avoiding Costly Pitfalls - A Practical Perspective

Annual Conference & Trade Show - Northern California Human Resources Association

September 2006

An Update on Navigating the Disability Maze

Legal Update Conference - Professionals In Human Resources Association

January 2006

Mediation Tips, Tricks and Tools of the Trade

American Bar Association (ABA) Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section (TIPS)

October 2005

Professionalism in the Workplace: Sexual Harassment Prevention

Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association

2005

Understanding the Rights of Disabled Workers

September 2002

Ensuring OSHA Compliance with Proposition 65 in the Workplace

April 2002

Employment Practices Liability: A Case Study

1997

Education

  • J.D., University of California, Berkeley School of Law, 1983
  • B.A., Claremont McKenna College, 1980 magna cum laude

Bar Admission

California

Courts

  • U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of California
  • U.S. District Court, Southern District of California
  • U.S. District Court, Central District of California
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California