Labor & Employment

Former Perkins Coie Attorney Sues Firm Over Paycheck Deductions, Seeks Class Action Status

Updated: A corporate attorney who formerly worked in the Menlo Park, Calif., office of Perkins Coie has sued the law firm in federal court in California, contending that it improperly made deductions from his pay and did not provide an accurate, itemized statement of his wages as required by state law.

Harold DeGraff contends that Perkins Coie improperly deducted from his pay business expenses, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Social Security costs, among others, that should have been paid by the law firm, according to Courthouse News Service.

“These practices have been uniformly applied to dozens of attorneys classified as W-2 employees at Perkins Coie offices throughout California,” the suit (PDF) alleges. It was filed Friday in federal court in San Francisco and seeks class action status on behalf of all attorneys who have worked or are working in the law firm’s offices in California.

Like other attorneys in the firm’s California offices, DeGraff says in the suit, he was given the choice of joining the firm as a partner or as an employee, and opted to join as an employee, in 2007, under an express written employment agreement.

However, Robert Giles, the firm’s managing partner, tells the ABA Journal that DeGraff was a voting equity partner of Perkins Coie and has no legitimate basis for complaint.

“He’s not being treated any differently than any other partner, not only in our firm but in every other firm in America,” Giles said.

Under what he describes as a hybrid partnership structure at Perkins Coie, new partners can opt, as DeGraff did, to sign on as a shareholder and employee of a Perkins Coie corporate partner, as most of the firm’s partners do, Giles explained.

The corporate partners, Giles went on, are not individuals but business entities that also are part of the law firm. How the arrangement works, financially, as far as pay deductions are concerned was “laid out in his offer letter, it’s laid out in firm manuals, it’s laid out everywhere, so I really don’t know where he’s coming from,” Giles said of DeGraff.

Giles said he himself sat down with DeGraff and the offer letter before DeGraff signed on.

“We do have this corporate interlay, but it doesn’t change the equation. It’s the same costs,” said Giles of the deductions from DeGraff’s pay, adding: “The accounting aspects of this are the same as every other firm.”

Other employees of the firm, such as associates and support staff, have a standard employment arrangement with the overall Perkins Coie law firm, Giles noted.

DeGraff is asking for a declaratory judgment that the law firm’s employment practices at issue in the suit violate state law, an injunction requiring the law firm to refrain from “the unlawful, unfair and fraudulent acts and practices alleged herein” and restitution, compensatory and statutory damages and attorney fees.

Monique Olivier and Thomas Duckworth of Duckworth Peters Lebowitz Olivier represent DeGraff.

Updated at 3:26 p.m. to include information from Robert Giles.

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