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Dissolving Thelen Faces Suits From Staff

SAN FRANCISCO (November 26, 2008) — Three Thelen associates and another staff member filed suit against their soon-to-be former firm on Monday, seeking damages for lost wages under the federal WARN Act.

The case marks at least the second potential class action filed in the past two weeks against the firm, which is closing shop on Dec. 1.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the more recent complaint alleges that Thelen violated the WARN Act by not giving 60 days’ notice prior to a mass layoff, failing to pay wages for 60 days following the layoff notice, and failing to pay for accrued vacation.

On Nov. 12, a San Francisco receptionist from the firm sued in San Francisco Superior Court on similar claims, and a 29-year librarian has since joined that suit.

“Many of these employees gave their blood, sweat and tears to Thelen LLP for years, and in response, they are being summarily terminated without even the minimum mandatory notice or pay. It shocks the conscience that Thelen LLP would treat its employees and its employees’ families in this way,” said Cary Kletter, a partner with Kletter & Peretz in San Francisco, which filed the state case, Troup v. Thelen, 08-481825. Mark Thierman, of Reno’s Thierman Law Firm, is listed as co-counsel.

The named plaintiffs for the federal suit, Bergman v. Thelen, 08-5322, worked in the firm’s New York and Connecticut offices.

But attorneys from California are expected to join that suit in January, after waiting period penalties have accrued, said Steven Blum and Craig Collins, of L.A.-based employment law boutique Blum Collins, which is representing the plaintiffs.

“The problem is if you file too early, you deprive your clients of 30 days of pay,” Collins said.

Thelen’s attorney, Latham & Watkins bankruptcy partner Peter Gilhuly, did not return a late call on Tuesday. Two members of Thelen’s dissolution committee, David Graybeal and Thomas Hill, also did not return a call Tuesday afternoon.

The plaintiffs in the federal case also intend to pursue successor liability.

“To the extent that the company is dissolved, the individual partners of Thelen may be responsible, and any law firm that’s taken on a large group of Thelen partners could potentially be considered a successor company, which is liable under labor laws to make good on Thelen’s obligations to its employees,” Collins said.

After a year of significant partner departures, Thelen announced on Oct. 28 that it would dissolve.

Former employees of Heller Ehrman filed a potential class action against that dissolving firm, also in the Northern District, in late October.

www.law.com/jsp/ca/PubArticleCA.jsp?id=1202426312765

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