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Maria Z. Stearns

T: (714) 338-1821

Maria Z. Stearns is a Partner in the firm's Employment Law Department where she represents businesses in employment litigation and transactional matters.  Ms. Stearns has extensive wage and hour class action experience, and has defended a wide variety of claims, among them allegations of meal/rest period violations, employee misclassification (exempt/non-exempt), improper bonus/commission plans, unpaid business expenses, uniform claims, reporting time pay, and timecard rounding.

In addition to her class action work, Ms. Stearns has also successfully represented employers in discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, disability and wrongful termination cases in state and federal court, and in administrative charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (and other state fair employment administrative agencies), the U.S. Department of Labor and the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.  Ms. Stearns' work also includes defense of unfair labor practice charges before the National Labor Relations Board and union arbitration proceedings.

Ms. Stearns represents employers in a wide variety of businesses, with particular expertise in the healthcare, restaurant, and retail industries.

As part of her practice, Ms. Stearns also provides preventative counseling and guidance to businesses regarding all aspects of the employer-employee relationship. This includes:

  • Assisting employers in conducting wage and hour self-audits and in responding to government audits;
  • Guiding employers through reduction-in-force programs, including compliance with state and federal laws such as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act ("WARN");
  • Drafting employee handbooks, workplace policies, employment agreements, commission plans, separation agreements, and employee counseling documents;
  • Advising on leave of absence and disability accommodation issues;
  • Providing on-site sexual harassment training pursuant to A.B. 1825; and
  • Serving as a day-to-day resource regarding employment questions.

Ms. Stearns was a full-scholarship varsity tennis player at the University of Kansas where she was named NCAA Woman of the Year. Ms. Stearns is fluent in Spanish and studied abroad in Guadalajara, Mexico. 

Awards & Honors

  • Top Labor & Employment Lawyers in California, Daily Journal, 2016
  • Law 360's Employment Rising Stars 2016
  • Top 100 Women Lawyer in California, Daily Journal, 2014, 2015, 2016 & 2017
  • Southern California “Super Lawyers” 2014-2018
  • Southern California Super Lawyers, "Rising Star" 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2013


  • Rutan & Tucker Annual Employment and Labor Law Update, 2013-2017
  • Los Angeles Daily Journal Employment Law Forum, 2017
  • Annual Legal Update, National Human Resources Association, 2016 & 2017
  • Employment Law Update, Association of Corporate Counsel, Los Angeles and Orange County Chapters, 2011-2016
  • What I Wish I Had Known In Law School About The Practice Of Law, Chapman Law School, 2014

Memberships & Associations

  • Association of Business Trial Lawyers (Orange County), Board of Governors (2012 – present)
  • National Human Resources Association (2009 – Present)
  • President, Harvard Law School Women's Alliance
  • Orange County Bar Foundation (non-profit organization committed to keeping at-risk youth out of jail, in school, healthy and drug free through education, counseling and mentoring), Board of Directors (2008 – Present)
  • State Bar of California (Labor and Employment Law Section)
  • American Bar Association (Labor and Employment Law Section)
  • Orange County Bar Association (Labor and Employment Law Section)