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Minami Tamaki at NAPABA Convention 2017

Minami Tamaki at NAPABA Convention 2017

TOP PHOTO: (back row) Partner Dale Minami (second from left) with the Hon. Holly J. Fujie (left), Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge; Pankit Doshi (second from right), incoming NAPABA national president; Ameek Sidhu (right); (front row) David Louie (left), former Attorney General for the State of Hawai’i; Joan Haratani (middle), the 2006 president of the Bar Association of San Francisco; and Michelle Park Chiu (right), AABA Bay Area board member (photo courtesy of AABA).


Minami Tamaki LLP attorneys Dale Minami, Sean Tamura-Sato, Suhi Koizumi, Lisa P. Mak, and Seema Bhatt recently attended the annual National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) National Convention in Washington, D.C.  The Convention had a record-breaking turnout of over 2,000 Asian Pacific American attorneys, judges, law students, and elected officials from around the country.

Suhi Koizumi, a Senior Associate in our Immigration Practice Group, was honored with the prestigious NAPABA Best Under 40 Award, which recognizes talented individuals in the Asian Pacific American legal community who are under the age of 40 and have achieved prominence and distinction in their respective fields, and who have demonstrated a strong commitment to Asian Pacific American civic or community affairs.

Minami Tamaki’s Suhi Koizumi (left of podium) receiving one of NAPABA’s ‘Best Under 40″ awards at the 2017 national convention (photo by Lisa P. Mak).

During CLE breakout sessions, Dale Minami, a Partner in our Personal Injury Group, joined with members of the Asian American Bar Association of New York in a moving re-enactment of the story and trial of Fred Korematsu, which resulted in the overturning of a 40-year-old conviction for Mr. Korematsu’s refusal to obey exclusion orders aimed at Japanese Americans during World War II.  Since Dale was the Lead Counsel for Fred Korematsu, he played himself in the re-enactment, which he described as “quite stressful.”

Minami Tamaki Partner Dale Minami participating in a re-enactment of the Korematsu trial (photo by Lisa P. Mak).

At the Convention, our firm also raised awareness about the Stop Repeating History (stoprepeatinghistory.org) campaign, which seeks to educate the public on the dangers of unchecked presidential power and the parallels between the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II with the current administration’s travel ban executive orders.

All of our attorneys who attended the Convention were a part of the NAPABA Solo and Small Firm Committee, which promotes the interest of small firms through “Boot Camp” seminars, networking, and cross referrals.

The Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA), represented by President Miriam Kim, was honored with the NAPABA Affiliate of the Year Award, which recognizes an outstanding local affiliate bar association for its best practices and accomplishments in its local community.  Nassiri & Jung LLP of San Francisco, represented by Charles Jung, was recognized as the APA-Owned Law Firm of the Year.  Pankit Doshi of San Francisco was sworn in as the new President of NAPABA.

Dale was a co-founder of AABA.  Sean Tamura-Sato, a Partner in our Consumer & Employee Rights Group, and Lisa P. Mak, an Associate in the same group, currently serve on AABA’s Board of Directors.

Associates Seema Bhatt (left) and Lisa P. Mak (right) attended their first NAPABA convention (photo courtesy of Lisa. P. Mak).

Lisa and Seema were first-time Convention attendees and were inspired by the experience of seeing so many influential API attorneys in diverse roles and meeting many judges, politicians, and other prominent members of the legal community.

Minami Tamaki is proud to continue supporting NAPABA and its efforts to address civil rights issues, promote community service, and increase diversity in the legal profession.

Partners Dale Minami (left) and Sean Tamura-Sato at the NAPABA 2017 convention (photo by Lisa P. Mak).

Minami Tamaki Files German Automaker Cartel Class Action Lawsuit

Minami Tamaki Files German Automaker Cartel Class Action Lawsuit

On October 4, 2017, Minami Tamaki filed a class action lawsuit in the Northern District of California alleging that German automakers BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, and Mercedes Benz conspired to limit competition and stunt automotive innovation.

The German publication Der Spiegel has reported that German automakers formed a wide-ranging cartel to reach agreements related to vehicle technology, costs for components, and suppliers.  It has been reported that working groups within these companies met with each other over 1,000 times dating back to the 1990s.

The automakers allegedly colluded on technical advancements, such as limiting the tank size for chemical cleaning agents (called AdBlue) that filter harmful diesel engine emissions.  The Der Spiegel report also cites an example of the automakers agreeing to limit the maximum speed at which convertible roofs could be opened to 50 kilometers/hour.

Individuals in the U.S. who purchased vehicles marketed as the product of highly touted “German engineering” may have been misled and unknowingly overpaid for their vehicles, and may be entitled to compensation.

Reports of a German automaker cartel come on the heels of the Volkswagen “clean diesel” scandal, which revealed that the company masked the fact that its vehicles emitted pollutants greatly exceeding legal limits through the use of “defeat devices.”  Minami Tamaki filed several lawsuits against Volkswagen alleging that the company cheated consumers and lied to the government.  After consumer claims were consolidated in the Northern District of California, Minami Tamaki prosecuted this matter with attorneys around the country, which resulted in settlements of over $15 billion.

If you own or lease a BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Audi, or Porsche automobile and would like to discuss your legal rights, you may contact us at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form. We look forward to the opportunity to speak with you.

‘Northern California’s Leading Lawyers’ Publication Recognizes Four Minami Tamaki LLP Cases

‘Northern California’s Leading Lawyers’ Publication Recognizes Four Minami Tamaki LLP Cases

Leaders in the Law recently recognized four Minami Tamaki LLP cases in its recent “Northern California’s Leading Lawyers” publication.

The publication included two new lists recognizing the region’s top verdicts and settlements compiled in partnership with LexisNexis.

Ranked in the Top 20 of both lists were the following cases:

A $3,250,000 settlement in the case of Estate of Lai v. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. 78-year-old Cheng Jin Lai was killed by a Muni bus while riding his bicycle in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco. The bus made him lose control of his bicycle, causing him to fall under the rear wheel of the bus and be killed instantly. Partner Mark Fong, Associate Seema Bhatt, and Partner Dale Minami represented the Lai estate.

A $2,805,000 settlement in the motor vehicle injury case of Paul Hon Chow Lee v. Progistics Distribution Inc. et al. Partner Dale Minami and Partner Mark Fong represented Mr. Lee.

A $1,250,000 settlement in the case of Delgado v. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Retiree Hanna Delgado was walking in a crosswalk in the Outer Richmond neighbor of San Francisco when she was struck by a Muni bus. She sustained injuries to her pelvis, hip, lower back, and chest. Partner Mark Fong, Associate Seema Bhatt, and Partner Dale Minami represented Ms. Delgado.

The $3,574,753 jury verdict in the case of Hagadorn et al v. County of Sacramento and Sacramento County Sheriff ‘s Department. 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 plaintiffs, four Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department officers, were represented by Lisa P. Mak of our consumer and employee rights practice and by The Law Offices of Jerry L. Chong and Alice W. Wong.

 

Lisa Mak Honored at Equal Justice Society Gala

Lisa Mak Honored at Equal Justice Society Gala

On September 27, 2017, Associate Lisa P. Mak in our Consumer and Employee Rights Group was honored at the Equal Justice Society’s annual gala. The Equal Justice Society celebrated its 17th anniversary with an “Art + Youth” gala honoring the next generation of torchbearers in the civil rights movement.

Lisa was honored for her work as a successful civil rights litigator, her fearless advocacy on behalf of workers, her writing on social justice issues, and her commitment to diversity.

In her acceptance remarks, Lisa expressed gratitude for being able to help her clients seek justice and emphasized the important role of lawyers in the fight for civil rights.

“Since the last election, lawyers have been at the forefront of protecting our civil rights by filing litigation, pushing for legal protections, and speaking truth to power against the narrative of ‘fake news,'” Lisa said. “Not only do we need lawyers in this country to continue fighting for civil rights, but we also need more diverse lawyers. Lawyers with backgrounds and characteristics that reflect the communities that we seek to serve, that need our help the most.”

The Equal Justice Society seeks to transform the nation’s consciousness on race and social justice through law, communications, social science research, and the arts. The organization’s current advocacy efforts include racial disparities in school discipline, inequities in the criminal justice system, and race-conscious remedies such as affirmative action.

Photo: EJS Board Member Jayashri Srikantiah (left) presents the EJS award to Lisa Mak. Photo by Bob Hsiang.

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!

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.