The five finalist cases for Public Justice’s Trial Lawyer of the Year Award include landmark cases dealing with workers’ rights, the horrifying consequences of product defects, financial institution funding of terrorism, and civil rights.
The award, which celebrates and recognizes the work of an attorney or team of attorneys working on behalf of individuals and groups that have suffered injustice and harmful abuse, will be presented at the organization’s Annual Gala and Awards Dinner on Sunday, July 24 in Los Angeles. Gwilliam Ivary was selected as one of the five finalists for the following case:
Andrews v. Lawrence Livermore National Security
In 2008, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California was taken over by a private company, Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC. LLNS is an LLC dominated by Bechtel Corporation and the University of California. LLNS promised to save the Federal Government $50 million annually. In May of that year, LLNS fired more than 400 of the lab’s most senior workers, including many top scientists and researchers. According the San Francisco Chronicle, they were given one hour to pack up all their belongings and return their badges before they were ‘perp-walked’ out of the lab. Fired at the height of the 2008 recession, many of those laid off experienced foreclosures, bankruptcies, divorces, depression, and physical symptoms as a direct result of their termination.
130 of these workers filed a consolidated action against the laboratory in May 2009, contending that LLNS’ promise to save the Department of Energy $50 million annually was contingent upon firing many of the laboratory’s oldest and most experienced workers. This stood in direct violation of existing layoff policies that dictated employees should be laid off in reverse order of seniority; the average seniority of those laid off was nearly 20 years.
The team litigated the case for more than seven years in a process that was continually delayed by stalling tactics by the laboratory counsel. Undeterred, counsel for the plaintiffs put in over 25,000 hours in the case, although the defense firm had 200 times the number of lawyers as Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer.
Despite all of the setbacks and delay tactics, the team won a $2.73 million jury verdict for past and future economic loss on claims of breach of contract, and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing for five test plaintiffs as part of a two-phase trial. The team was then able to negotiate a $37.25 million settlement for 129 of the 130 plaintiffs-the equivalent of over three years’ salary for each plaintiff. The defense insisted the settlement be confidential. Plaintiffs’ counsel refused to agree to confidentiality, arguing the public had a right to know how its tax dollars are being spent.
The Andrews case sheds light on how the George W. Bush administration’s decision to privatize a national security laboratory had devastating impacts on workers and the nation’s safety, as decades of knowledge and experience left the lab as a result of the layoffs. The case affected all workers at the Lawrence Livermore lab and approximately 10,000 workers at its sister lab in Los Alamos by establishing standards under which permanent employees can be laid off, hopefully ensuring that no other injustice like this can ever happen at those laboratories again.
Team: Gary Gwilliam, Randall E. Strauss, and Robert J. Schwartz of Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer in Oakland, Calif.; and Omar Habbas of Habbas & Associates in San Jose, Calif.