How you can best protect yourself and your business to avoid litigation, potentially bankrupting your company.
By Nicole Polizois, California Business Journal
Imagine you’ve had this dream of starting your own business — the one that you have dreamt of since you were 12 years old. You went on to earn your MBA, raised the capital to launch the business and brought together the brightest minds in the country. You are now a CEO with 50 employees and you’ve grown into a nationwide company with vendors like Walmart, Ulta, CVS and Staples. You thought you had crossed every ‘t’ and dotted every ‘i’ as you worked arduous hours in your corner office.
Then, years later, on a Tuesday at 4 p.m. you are served with a thick stack of papers. You are being sued by a worker hired by a third-party across the country and this lawsuit threatens to bankrupt your company, which now has 75 dedicated and loyal workers. You underestimated the value of hiring an attorney from the start, yet you figured this was one corner that could be cut — and so the story goes.
This type of litigation is what employment attorney C.J. Pearl strategizes with his clients to avoid at his firm Pearl Legal, APC.
And this is precisely why Chris Copenhaver, Co-Owner and Founder of Protos Security, sought out Pearl.
Copenhaver found himself in a scenario similar to the one described above. An employee had filed a legal claim in California based upon a “false wage dispute.” He needed a powerhouse attorney. And he was 3,000 miles away in Virginia.
“C.J. came in, took the helm, put a stop to the case and shut it down,” Copenhaver says. “His expertise and aptitude in labor law protected our company in our time of need for legal protection. He stepped up to the plate big time, delivering just what we needed.”
Pearl’s business sense stems from his roots in Buffalo, New York, where he was raised by a family of entrepreneurs and small business owners. He was the first in his family to attend college.
From this experience, he doesn’t just provide a company with general business defense litigation counsel — he likens his role to that of a business partner.
“Your business is at $100,000 and you want to be at $2 million — how can you grow there? How can I help you get there?” he says. “How can we grow with the best risk aversion? How can we protect your company from the expected and the unexpected?”
Protection is required — and Pearl provides it.
Pearl earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Law, where he was also a certified clinical legal intern with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Vice-President of the Student Bar Association. During his undergraduate years, he worked at the office of a member of the House of Representative’s leadership caucus.
He chose to go into law because “I always liked the prestige of the law. I loved everything from its historical context to the minutia of subject-specific issues, like labor law. The idea of looking out for the little guy, like a start-up company, or entrepreneurs like my parents, also appealed to me. I always felt that way — and even though I’ve been in California for 17 years, at heart, I’m a blue-collar Buffalo kid. And I especially feel that way as a lawyer.”
Labor employment litigation became Pearl’s niche because of the need for it while working in business litigation in California, where there is an ever-increasing need for lawyers because of strict labor laws his clients were dealing with. A major area of litigation in employment law in California revolves around wages, particularly with the prospect of class or representative actions, which took a major leap following the enacting of California’s Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”), known as the “head hunter statute,” in 2004.
“The rights to employee wages — actually the state-mandated protections against wage theft and related issues — have significantly evolved,” Pearl says. “California has a very protective labor code particularly in the protection of employee wages, mandated breaks, and documentation of time and pay, to name a few. It can be quite challenging for even the most sophisticated businesses.”
Since October 2017, when the #METOO hashtag spread virally, there has not only been a greater focus on discrimination and harassment claims, there has been “a lot of movement” in employment law as well.
“The ‘METOO’ movement has significantly impacted companies,” Pearl says. “They’re more aware internally on how they need to structure, and how to treat and protect employees. They’re reaching out to lawyers like me more than ever before. It’s too critical of an area to ignore or not have a subject-matter-specific lawyer advising you.”
Pearl sees a shift in companies taking these business-crushing issues, such as sexual harassment and the wage-gap, more seriously because of the rise in employment litigation in California. He partners with in-house counsel as well as human resources departments from everything to advise on their internal investigations and complaint monitoring to wage compliance. And he does so with small businesses and startups to international Fortune 500 companies.
Pearl thrives in cases when he feels challenged. Take the case of a company led by Konstantin Gredeskoul — a case requiring a deep understanding of technologies where Pearl found it necessary to learn the language involved in the software development industry to better understand both sides.
The case was not only highly contentious, but it had significant media exposure as well. Pearl resolved the case — and “saved our company,” Gredeskoul says.
“We were captivated by C.J.’s preparation and performance and his strive for excellence. He has a crystal-clear communication style — and his ability to quickly grasp the finer workings of the technology with complexity levels that are typically accessible only to the software development experts — or other IT professionals — was remarkable.”
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