Panelists Discussed Utah Labor Commissioner’s Office, Defense Attorney Perspectives, and Lawyer Civility
Galen Shimoda, as president of the Utah Employment Lawyers Association (UELA), organized and spoke on his experiences with the Utah Labor Commission during the 2023 UELA conference.
The not-for-profit organization consists of about 40 active members, including employment law attorneys, law students from the nearby University of Utah, and members of nonprofits helping employees.
The 2023 conference featured three panels discussing Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor (UALD)/Labor Commissioner, perspectives from employment law defense lawyers, and methods to improve relationships with opposing counsel by practicing civility.
“It was a nice seminar that was a half-day event that was put on,” Galen said. He provided insight during the UALD/Labor Commissioner panel along with Cameron Platt and moderated the perspective from the defense and plaintiff side of employment cases.
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How Does The UALD/Labor Commissioner Affect Claims?
A fact known by the conference attendees, but not as well known by Utah residents, is the requirement of wage claims under $10,000 and discrimination claims to go through the UALD and its mediation process before cases can go to federal or state court.
Galen said the timeline to schedule a mediation is 4-6 months, followed by an investigation period where the UALD/Labor Commissioner interviews parties on the defendant and plaintiff’s side.
“It’s actually quite successful using the Labor Commissioner as a medium to discuss and talk with counsel for the company so we can try to reach a resolution,” he said.
He offered strategies for going into mediation and what to do if parties elect to forego mediation and go into an investigation. He said that during investigations, his strategy is to submit declarations or affidavits to establish proof of the discrimination or the failure to pay wages with the UALD/Labor Commissioner.
“My experience with the handful of cases I’ve taken is most of these cases can be settled before going to court, and that’s the whole reason in Utah to have people go through this administrative process so it avoids clogging up the court system,” Galen said.
He spoke about how the process differs significantly from California, where his practice can petition for the right to sue and then file a lawsuit for wage and hour claims, discrimination, retaliation, etc.
Creating A Venue For Competing Ideas
Galen invited Roger Hoole, a Utah employment law attorney often hired to defend companies during mediations, investigations, and if a lawsuit is filed in federal or state court.
“I try to bring in defense attorneys because even though they’re not a part of our association, we get to know them, we get to know what they’re thinking, and it builds collegiality,” he said.
Generally speaking, it’s easier to work with opposing counsel hired by companies rather than in-house litigators, as outside defense lawyers are less attached and more objective in reviewing the claims, identifying potential exposure, and analyzing the claim(s) merits.
Hoole detailed how he evaluates cases, his end goals when he takes on a case, and how he handles workplace investigations and attorney-client privilege, among other questions from attendees.
Galen said speakers like Hoole allow UELA members to focus on how they can work together with the opposition rather than how they cannot.
“I like to hear what they’re thinking, and I think that’s always an advantage to know what your opponent is thinking or what their process is, and that’s why we brought them in,” he said.