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NAPABA Spotlight on Lisa Mak

NAPABA Spotlight on Lisa Mak

The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) Women’s Leadership Network profiled Minami Tamaki LLP attorney Lisa P. Mak in its “July Member Spotlight.” We reprint the NAPABA Women’s Leadership Network post here with their permission.

By Carolynn Beck

This month’s member spotlight is Lisa Mak, a San Francisco employment and consumer rights attorney with Minami Tamaki, LLP.

Name:  Lisa P. Mak
Title:  Associate Attorney
Practice Area:  Employment and Consumer Rights
Contact Info:  Minami Tamaki LLP, 415-788-9000, LMak@minamitamaki.com
City & State:  San Francisco, CA

Short Bio: Lisa Mak is a plaintiff-side employment and consumer rights litigator at Minami Tamaki LLP. She has served as trial counsel in a wide variety of employment disputes in state and federal court. Lisa is actively involved in the Asian American bar and plaintiffs’ bar communities. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, and the non-profit Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach. She also co-chairs the Diversity Outreach Committee of the California Employment Lawyers Association.  Additionally, she writes for CELA Voice, a plaintiffs’ advocates blog discussing workplace legal issues.

Recent Work Achievement/Highlight: In 2016, Ms. Mak was co-lead counsel on a five-week jury trial which resulted in a $3.5 million total verdict for four female officers with retaliation claims against the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.  Additionally, she has been recognized as a SuperLawyers Rising Star since 2015, and she recently received the Legal Advocate Award from the Center for Workers’ Rights in Sacramento.

Fun Fact: One of her life goals is to visit all of the Disney theme parks in the world… she’s 50% of the way there!

Standing Up Against Sexism in Silicon Valley

Standing Up Against Sexism in Silicon Valley

Minami Tamaki LLP assists employees in the technology industry in navigating workplace issues and developing strategies to advance their careers.  We ensure that employee legal rights are protected, and take appropriate action to hold employers accountable.  Minami Tamaki attorneys have vast experience representing female tech workers in combating unfair and inappropriate treatment in the workplace.

Recently, new allegations of harassment and gender discrimination in Silicon Valley have been reported on a near daily basis.  The resignation of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick following accusations of a sexist, toxic culture at Uber was followed by venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital resigning due to alleged sexual harassment. A female engineer at Tesla claimed she was sexually harassed and paid less than men for doing the same work, which was followed by stories from other women at Tesla who had allegedly experienced the same mistreatment.  More female entrepreneurs, engineers, and tech industry veterans are continuing to come forward with their own accounts of being harassed and retailed against.

Predatory and sexist behavior has long been a known problem in Silicon Valley, but has rarely been exposed and addressed until recently.  However, as more individuals speak out, a cultural shift has begun to take place within the tech industry.  Increased awareness of this culture of harassment has created serious consequences for companies and investors who engage in such misconduct.

DISCRIMINATION AND HARASSMENT

Major workplace issues related to gender discrimination in Silicon Valley include:

  • Harassment:  Sexual harassment in the legal context can be quid pro quo, which is characterized as unwelcome sexual conduct made as a condition of employment.  Or it can be hostile work environment harassment, which is an environment where harassment based on sex is sufficiently pervasive or severe to alter the terms and conditions of employment.  Both types of harassment are illegal under state and federal law.
  • Pregnancy Discrimination:  Employees are frequently denied their legally mandated maternity leave or, worse yet, “laid off” or dismissed during their pregnancy or while on maternity leave.  Employees can encounter difficulty in receiving legally required medical accommodations related to their pregnancies.  Also, new mothers may face discrimination when returning to the workplace after maternity leave, as they can be inappropriately viewed as less dedicated to their jobs.
  • Wage Gap:  In California, it can be illegal to pay women less money than men for performing equal work. Subjective and sometimes discriminatory criteria are used to negotiate starting salaries, pay raises, and promotions for individuals who have similar qualifications.  There continues to be a significant difference in the pay that men and women receive for performing the same work in the technology and engineering fields.  These wage differences are compounded over time, which can result in women being underpaid for many years of their working life.
  • Glass Ceiling: Even when women demonstrate their value in the workplace, they face additional challenges in receiving promotions and leadership opportunities.  Bias in the work assignment and performance evaluation process contributes to the creation of work environments where it is more difficult for women to succeed and advance.  A lack of mentoring and networking opportunities have been identified as factors in the lack of women in higher level and management positions in the tech industry.

WE CAN HELP

The San Francisco Bay Area is the epicenter of technological innovation in the United States.  Silicon Valley startup companies and tech giants have the potential to change the way that we live and every facet of our society.

However, while these companies seek to “disrupt” the status quo, the fundamental tenets of fairness and equality in the workplace remain critical.

Minami Tamaki LLP works to ensure that the rights of all workers are protected.  There are numerous state and federal laws that prohibit gender discrimination and provide for pregnancy and childcare leave. These laws include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the California Family Rights Act, the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Pay Act.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss your workplace issues with you.  You may contact us at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form.

Congratulations to Our Firm’s 2017 Northern California Super Lawyers


SUPER LAWYERS 2017 (Photo by Gary Wagner) – BACK ROW (L-R): Seema Bhatt (Rising Stars); Donald K. Tamaki (10-plus years); La Verne A. Ramsay; Suhi Koizumi (Rising Stars); Sean Tamura-Sato (Rising Stars); Olivia Serene Lee (Rising Stars); Heather Osuna; B. Mark Fong (Super Lawyers); FRONT ROW: Jack W. Lee* (10-plus years); Lisa P. Mak (Rising Stars); Minette A. Kwok (10-plus years); Dale Minami (Top 10, Top 100, 10-plus years)

We’re proud to announce that all of Minami Tamaki LLP’s Partners and more than 70 percent of our Associates were selected as Northern California Super Lawyers for 2017. Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.

Three of our Partners have been named Northern California Super Lawyers for the last 14 consecutive years. Dale Minami was named to the Top 10 and Top 100 lists.

Dale Minami – Personal Injury
Super Lawyer Top 10, 2017 (5 years)
Super Lawyer Top 100, 2017 (10 years)
Super Lawyer, 2017 (10+ Years)

Minette A. Kwok – Immigration
Super Lawyer, 2017 (10+ Years)
Super Lawyer, Past Top 50 Women, Northern California (3 years)

Jack W. Lee – Consumer and Employee Rights (*Retired)
Super Lawyer, 2017 (10+ Years)
Super Lawyer, Past Top 100 (1 year)

Donald K. Tamaki – Corporate and Nonprofit Counseling
Super Lawyer, 2017 (10+ Years)

B. Mark Fong – Personal Injury
Super Lawyer, 2017 (8 Years)
Super Lawyer, Past Top 100 (2 Years)

Sean Tamura-Sato – Consumer and Employee Rights
Rising Stars, 2017 (5 years)

Suhi Koizumi – Immigration
Rising Stars, 2017 (8 years)

Olivia Serene Lee – Immigration
Rising Stars, 2017 (4 years)

Lisa P. Mak – Consumer and Employee Rights
Rising Stars, 2017 (3 years)

Seema Bhatt – Personal Injury
Rising Stars, 2017 (inaugural year)

Congratulations to all of you!

Lisa Mak Receives Legal Advocate Award from the Center for Workers’ Rights

Lisa Mak Receives Legal Advocate Award from the Center for Workers’ Rights

On June 28, 2017, Associate Lisa P. Mak in our Consumer and Employee Rights Group was honored with the Legal Advocate Award from the Center for Workers’ Rights in Sacramento.

Lisa received the award for her successful representation of four female officers of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, which resulted in a $3.5 million verdict after a five-week jury trial last year.

The Center also commended Lisa for being a vanguard in advocacy on behalf of plaintiffs, for her commitment to workplace justice, and for her efforts to advance diversity in the plaintiffs’ bar.

In her acceptance remarks, Lisa emphasized the importance of courageous advocacy to empower employees to stand up for their rights, and to hold employers accountable for their treatment of workers.

“…[W]e need advocates who have the courage and conviction to stand with workers and fight for them in our legislature, in our court system, and in the court of public opinion,” Lisa said.

“Especially for lawyers – I think that we are in a special position to advocate and to litigate cases that empower not just our clients, but the larger community.  And that’s a gift that we have, and that’s what drives my work everyday.”

The Center for Workers’ Rights strives to improve working conditions, reduce barriers to securing employment, and remedy workplace injustices for low-wage workers and their families in the greater Sacramento area.

Congratulations, Lisa!

Olivia Lee Leads AILA NorCal to Highest Honors in National Organization

Olivia Lee Leads AILA NorCal to Highest Honors in National Organization

PHOTO: AILA NorCal Chair Olivia Lee (second of left) with other chapter leaders accepting the Platinum Chapter Award.​

The Northern California Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) received the Platinum Chapter Award, the organization’s highest honor for chapters, at AILA Annual Conference last week in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Olivia Serene Lee, an associate in our Immigration Practice Group, has served as 2016-2017 Chair for AILA NorCal. She has served on the AILA NorCal Executive Board for the past four years.

Under Olivia’s leadership, AILA NorCal has been at the forefront in proactively responding to the institutional assault against immigrants. When the Trump administration attempted to enact a travel ban on Muslims, AILA NorCal was one of the first groups to respond, providing services at aiports, and offering assistance to those impacted.

She has been actively involved in AILA NorCal since 2009, leading and organizing more than 30 Continuing Legal Education programs in all aspects of immigration law, including prosecutorial discretion, export control, PERM, waivers, asylum, and events with immigration judges, USCIS, CBP, DOL and asylum officers. She also served as faculty on local and national AILA CLE panels on topics such as O-1s and H-1Bs.

AILA is the national bar for immigration attorneys, and AILA NorCal is one of its larger chapters, with over 850 members.

Trade Secret Litigation: Waymo V. Uber and Lessons on Departing Employees

Trade Secret Litigation: Waymo V. Uber and Lessons on Departing Employees

Minami Tamaki’s Consumer and Employee Rights Group specializes in trade secret litigation, a growing area of technology law in Silicon Valley and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.  Our attorneys represent both employees in defense of their development of skills and talent, and employers seeking to protect their proprietary and confidential information.

The ongoing Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies litigation has highlighted the complex legal issues involved in trade secret cases. Waymo (a self-driving car project owned by Google parent company Alphabet) filed suit in February 2017 accusing Uber of committing legal violations related to theft of trade secrets.  Waymo alleges that its former senior employee Anthony Levandowski took Waymo proprietary information when he left the company to co-found his own self-driving vehicle company, Otto.

Uber purchased Otto in 2016 for a reported $680 million and made Levandowski the head of Uber’s self-driving technology division.  Waymo alleges that Levandowski then began using Waymo’s proprietary information at Uber in violation of trade secret law and agreements that he entered into while employed at Waymo.

After filing suit in February 2017, Waymo sought provisional relief to stop Uber from using the technology it claimed Levandowski had stolen.  In ruling on Waymo’s motion, Northern District of California Judge William Alsup stated that Waymo presented compelling evidence that Levandowski “downloaded over 14,000 confidential files from Waymo immediately before leaving his employment there.”

Levandowski allegedly spent eight hours downloading data from his work laptop onto a personal data storage device, and then reformatted his work laptop with a new operating system, wiping it clean.  The Order stated that the evidence indicated that Uber likely knew or should have known that Levandowski had taken Waymo’s confidential files, as Uber engaged a digital forensics firm to perform “due diligence” on the data.

Judge Alsup ordered the Defendants to return the downloaded materials to Waymo and provide detailed accountings of meetings and messages in which the self-driving car technology Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) was discussed.  A trial in the case is set for October 2017.

Trade Secret Law in California

Under California law, everything that an employee acquires by virtue of his or her employment (other than compensation for services) belongs to the employer.  Labor Code § 2860.  This includes the employer’s trade secrets.  A trade secret is defined as information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, device, method, technique, or process that (1) derives independent economic value from not being generally known to the public, and (2) is the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.

Misappropriation of the employer’s trade secrets is an intentional tort under both the common law and the Uniform Trade Secrets Act.  Civil Code § 3426.1.  Trade secret cases commonly deal with a former employer’s customer lists, but other employer property, such as plans and designs for the former employer’s products, may be considered trade secrets.

Companies bringing trade secrets allegations argue that they have spent substantial time and money developing proprietary technology and information, and that the departing employee absconding with this information must be immediately enjoined.  Employees counter that they have taken only their general knowledge and talent to their new employers, not their former employers’ trade secrets.

An employee may point to California law that supports the contention that an employee cannot be expected to wipe his or her memory clean in joining a new employer.  Morlife Inc. v. Perry, 56 Cal.App.4th 1514 (1997).  Trade secret cases are hard fought and the issue of what constitutes a trade secret is often heavily litigated.

Non-Compete and Non-Solicitation Agreements

“Non-compete clauses” (also known as “covenants not to compete”) provide that an employee agrees not to enter into a similar profession or trade in competition against his or her employer.  While most people have heard of non-compete clauses, they may not know that non-compete clauses are generally void and unenforceable in California.  Business & Professions Code § 16600.

Under California law, individuals have the right to compete with former employers, provided that such competition is fairly and legally conducted.  Reeves v. Hanlon, 33 Cal.4th 1140 (2004).  California courts have consistently declared that the public policy of the state is to ensure that citizens retain the right to pursue any lawful employment and enterprise of their choice.  Edwards v. Arthur Anderson LLP, 44 Cal.4th 937 (2008). The sentiment behind this public policy is that technology and progress flourish where individuals are free to leave a company with all of their knowledge and skills, and to pursue any vocation that they wish.

The California policy against non-compete agreements extends to agreements not to solicit a former employer’s customers.  Such agreements are also generally invalid under Business & Professions Code § 16600.  Restrictions on soliciting customers are allowable only when they protect trade secrets or confidential proprietary information.  Thompson v. Impaxx, Inc., 113 Cal.App.4th 1425 (2003).

While it is well-established that non-compete agreements and customer non-solicitation agreements are unenforceable in California, the law takes a different view when it comes to employee non-solicitation agreements.  A former employer may generally enforce an agreement prohibiting a former employee from actively soliciting the former employer’s other workers to join a new employer.  Loral Corp. v. Moyes, 174 Cal.App.3d 268 (1985).

However, while the employee may be restricted from soliciting his or her former co-workers, this does not prevent these former co-workers from voluntarily seeking out new employment.  California public policy deems the mobility and betterment of employees as paramount to the competitive business interests of the employer.  Metro Traffic Control, Inc. v. Shadow Traffic Network, 22 Cal.pp.4th 853 (1994).  Thus, an agreement that an individual (and his or her new employer) refrain from hiring a former employer’s workers may be deemed unenforceable, and could give rise to liability under antitrust laws.

Protecting Your Rights

Minami Tamaki defends employees against accusations of misappropriation of trade secrets, and also advises employees in fighting overbroad agreements that improperly restrict competition. Our attorneys also counsel employers on protecting their trade secrets and preventing unfair business practices by departing employees.

Best practices for employers may include drafting agreements that require employees to return company property upon separation of employment, drafting personnel policies regarding assignment of inventions and confidentiality, imaging and forensic analysis of employee computers and storage devices, and pursuing injunctive relief in the event of misappropriation of trade secrets.

Whether you are an employee or an employer, the attorneys at Minami Tamaki are available to discuss with you at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form.  We look forward to the opportunity to review your trade secret or unfair competition matter with you.

Lisa P. Mak Honored at Asian/Pacific Bar of Sacramento Foundation Event

On May 25, 2017, Associate Lisa P. Mak received a legislative resolution presented by the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and the Asian Bar Association of Sacramento Law Foundation for her success in the Hagadorn v. Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department case.

In May 2016, a jury awarded our clients a collective total of over $3.5 million in economic and non-economic damages for their claims of employment retaliation.  Earlier this year, the County dropped its appeal of the successful verdict.

Presented by Assemblymember Phil Ting, the congratulatory resolution praised the case as “a stunning victory not only for the plaintiffs, but also for the four Asian American lawyers who had so ably and steadfastly represented them.”

The resolution also commended Minami Tamaki for its “successful legal representation in practice areas inclusive of civil rights and employment discrimination and its leadership role as a preeminent Asian American law firm in California.”

At the same event, Partner Dale Minami presented a keynote address titled “Empowering the Community and Educating the Public through Law.”

Dale spoke about his legal career working on cases with significant national impact, including: the reversal of the convictions of Fred Korematsu, Min Yasui, and Gordon Hirabayashi for challenging the internment order of Japanese Americans during World War II; the unfair denial of tenure to Professor Don Nakanishi at UCLA that highlighted discrimination in academia; and the first employment class action lawsuit in the country brought by Asian Pacific Americans, challenging employment practices at Blue Shield.

Dale emphasized the importance of using legal cases to empower our communities and educate the public, and the need to increase diversity in our leadership and judiciary.  Dale is a founding member of ABAS, the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, and the Asian Law Caucus.

 

Lisa P. Mak to Receive Legal Advocate Award from Center for Workers’ Rights

Associate Lisa P. Mak in our Consumer and Employee Rights Group will be recognized with a Legal Advocate Award from the Center for Workers’ Rights on June 28, 2017, in Sacramento.

In a letter to Lisa, the Center wrote: “Your victory against the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of four sheriff’s deputies demonstrates your tireless commitment to workplace justice. In addition, your commitment to pro bono legal services sets you apart from others in our field.”

The Center for Workers’ Rights strives to improve working conditions, reduce barriers to securing employment, and remedy workplace injustices for low-wage workers and their families in the greater Sacramento area.

Lisa will receive the award on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. at the Citizen Hotel in Sacramento.

Congratulations, Lisa!

Sacramento County abandons appeal of successful retaliation verdict to our clients, concluding contentious lawsuit

Sacramento County abandons appeal of successful retaliation verdict to our clients, concluding contentious lawsuit

The County of Sacramento recently abandoned its appeal of the jury verdict award from last May 2016 to four Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department officers represented by Minami Tamaki LLP and The Law Offices of Jerry L. Chong and Alice W. Wong. The County’s abandonment of the appeal brings a conclusion to this hard-fought lawsuit filed over six years ago.

Plaintiffs were four female law enforcement officers who complained about race and gender discrimination and sexual favoritism in the Sheriff’s Department. After their complaints, the Department retaliated against the female officers and derailed their careers. They were removed from their job positions, unfairly disciplined, subjected to punitive investigations, and passed over for promotions and specialty assignments.

The case was jointly litigated by both firms for over six years, culminating in a five-week trial in Sacramento Superior Court. At trial, these four women told their stories of how they were targeted and suffered retaliation after their complaints. The jury also heard testimony from former and current top brass in the Department. Ultimately, a jury awarded the Plaintiffs a collective total of over $3.5 million in economic and non-economic damages. The County appealed the verdict to the Third District Court of Appeals, but recently abandoned its appeal.

“In bringing this case, our clients wanted to open up a dialogue and advocate for a better, more fair place to work not just for themselves, but for all officers in the department,” said Lisa Mak of Minami Tamaki LLP. “We hope cases like this encourage all employees to speak up against injustice.”

The Consumer and Employee Rights Group at Minami Tamaki LLP is committed to advocating on behalf of all employees for a fair workplace. Our group has extensive experience litigating against public and private employers in areas such as discrimination, retaliation, harassment, family and medical leave, and wage and hour violations.