James Morris is a well-known employment lawyer, and in both 2019 and 2014 was chosen as one of the top 75 employment and labor attorneys in California by the Daily Journal newspaper. He has been selected continuously since 2009 for inclusion in the prestigious publication Best Lawyers in America in labor and employment categories. He has also been chosen continuously since 2005 as a Southern California “Super Lawyer” for employment and labor law. Jim is the senior partner in the firm’s Employment Department, and has served on the Firm’s Executive Committee. He also has served multiple terms as the Chair of the Employment Department.
Jim has extensive employment and labor law litigation experience, including state and federal court defense of cases alleging wrongful termination, sexual harassment, individual and class action employment discrimination, class action wage-hour violations, and unfair competition claims. He also has significant experience in the “traditional” labor law areas of unfair labor practice charges, union organizing campaigns, collective bargaining negotiations and arbitrations. Most recently, Jim served as lead counsel in a significant case that resulted in a unanimous employer-favorable decision by the California Supreme Court in a PAGA action. ZB, N.A. v. Superior Court (Lawson) (Sept. 12, 2019) __ Cal.5th __, 2019 WL 4309684, 2019 Cal. LEXIS 6629.
In addition to the litigation component of his practice, Jim also counsels employers on employee discipline matters, internal investigations, government agency investigations, personnel policies, employment contracts and separation agreements, workforce restructuring, wage-hour issues, and unfair competition matters related to employment. He has also represented senior executives of large companies in connection with employment contract negotiations and change of control rights in corporate acquisitions.
Having specialized throughout his career in representing management in all facets of labor and employment law, Jim has represented a wide variety of public companies and privately-held clients in many different employment sectors, including retailing, manufacturing, hospitality, entertainment, construction, service industry, real estate, technology, transportation (airline, trucking and shipping) and higher education.
Jim grew up in South Carolina and practiced with a large firm in Dallas before relocating to Orange County in 1983. He joined the Firm as a partner in 1985. Jim has written and lectured on a broad range of employment law topics.
Areas of Expertise
Employment and Labor Law (Litigation and Counseling)
- Lead counsel in unanimous employer-favorable decision by California Supreme Court, holding that employees cannot circumvent their individual arbitration agreements by using the California Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”) to pursue a claim for unpaid wages as so-called “civil penalties.” This decision represents a substantial victory for the California employer community, and reverses six appellate court decisions holding that employees could recover unpaid wages as part of the civil penalties allowed under PAGA. (ZB, N.A. v. Superior Court (Lawson) (Sept. 12, 2019) __ Cal.5th __, 2019 WL 4309684, 2019 Cal. LEXIS 6629.)
- Lead counsel in defense of inflammatory sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation case brought against Plaintiff’s former employer, two allegedly related companies, and the spouse of the employer’s owner. Claims included salacious allegations of sexually explicit photographs allegedly being texted to Plaintiff, and from Plaintiff. Case settled (without a confidentiality agreement, per new California statute) on employer-favorable terms, far below estimated remaining litigation expenses. (2019)
- Lead counsel in successful labor-management arbitration in dispute over collective bargaining agreement negotiation and interpretation regarding accrual of vacation for large bargaining unit. NLRB dismissed Union’s unfair labor practice charge on other claims, and deferred the vacation-related claim to arbitration. Arbitrator issued 30-page opinion upholding employer’s position in all respects. Other Union-filed unfair labor practice charges for alleged retaliation, refusal to bargain, and interference with protected activity, also were dismissed by the NLRB. (2018)
- Employer victory in union election conducted under NLRB “quickie election” rules. Election was held just 21 days after union petition was filed on December 23, 2016, while client’s plant was closed for Christmas – New Year’s holidays. Union filed no post-election objections, and withdrew its vote challenges. (2017)
- Lead counsel in successful defense of case alleging “public policy” wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation and harassment, arising from employee’s termination following positive drug test. Employee claimed migraine condition entitled him to use medical marijuana, and that termination also was in retaliation for his class membership in a prior wage-hour class action. Employee dismissed all claims with prejudice for a waiver of costs on first day of arbitration. (2016)
- Lead counsel in successful defense and settlement of wage-hour class action alleging multiple California wage-hour violations. Client obtained Pick-Up Stix settlements with individual class members, eliminating the alleged class, and settled the putative class representative’s individual case at mediation. (2016)
- Lead counsel in successful defense and settlement of wage-hour class action alleging numerous wage-hour claims. After trial court enforced client’s motion to compel arbitration on an individual basis (thus effectively defeating class action claims), the putative class representative’s individual claims settled promptly for low amount, resulting in dismissal of entire action with court approval. (2016)
- Lead counsel in employer’s successful defense of union organizing campaign and election in industrial setting. Employer won election by nearly 5-to-1 margin, with no unfair labor practice charges filed against it, and no vote challenges or post-election objections. (2015)
- Lead counsel in successfully defending wage-hour class action lawsuit. Class claims dismissed by court order (no settlement paid); class representative plaintiff’s claims dismissed with prejudice (no settlement paid).
- Lead counsel in obtaining employer’s dismissal of class action wage-hour lawsuit after negotiating individual settlements with most putative class members; class representative plaintiff’s claims dismissed with prejudice on eve of trial for partial reimbursement of $6500 of court costs (no payment to plaintiff; no confidentiality).
- Lead counsel in obtaining dismissal of individual plaintiff’s California Family Rights Act and disability discrimination lawsuit for $1,500 settlement (no confidentiality).
- Lead counsel in successfully directing representation of employer through union organizing campaign and election. Employer won election by 2-to-1 margin, defeated related unfair labor practice charges, and successfully challenged ballots cast by ineligible voters.
- Lead counsel in obtaining court-approved dismissal of wage-hour class action claims (no settlement), and court-approved settlement with putative class representative for less than $10,000.
- Lead counsel in matter brought by our employer client against three former executives and their new employers for misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of fiduciary duties, breach of contract, interference with contract, and multiple other claims. The defendants paid our client $5,000,000 in a pre-trial settlement and consented to additional injunctive relief.
- Lead counsel for employer in class action arbitration brought by union on behalf of over 200 employees terminated in connection with having furnished invalid social security numbers to employer. The arbitrator granted our client’s motion to dismiss the arbitration due to the union having failed to process the underlying grievance properly. The union petitioned in federal court to vacate the arbitration award, but the court upheld the arbitration award, resulting in complete victory for our client.
- Lead counsel in defense of gender discrimination and wage-hour lawsuit brought against our employer client, along with a senior executive and a third party. We successfully brought a motion to compel arbitration. Case alleged gender stereotyping, public policy-based wrongful termination, and misclassification as an exempt employee. Following a lengthy arbitration, the arbitrator issued a detailed written opinion finding in favor of our client on all claims. (The individual defendants also had won pre-trial dismissals of the claims against them.)
- Lead counsel in successful resolution of statewide wage-hour class action against our national retailer client. Claims were brought by former cleaning service workers, who alleged joint employer liability against our client, two other national retailers, and the workers’ direct employer, which had gone bankrupt.
- Lead counsel in defeating attempt by New York theatrical unions to organize performers at client’s entertainment industry facility in the Meadowlands, N.J. area. Client won union election and prevailed in published NLRB decision rejecting unions’ election objections. Medieval Knights LLC, 350 NLRB No. 17, 182 LRRM 1139 (2007).
News & Insights
- “Employers Beware: Navigating Legal Landmines in the Battle Over Immigration,” Orange County Business Journal, March 2015
- “Well, It Sounded Like a Good Idea at the Time!” Orange County Business Journal, August 2014
- “The NLRB and a Series of Unfortunate Events,” OC Lawyer Publication, May 2014
- “2014 Roundtable Series – Labor & Employment,” California Lawyer Publication, May 2014
- “2013 Roundtable Series – Labor & Employment,” California Lawyer Publication, October 2013
- “2012 Roundtable Series – Labor & Employment,” California Lawyer Publication, October 2012
- Published articles on labor law and civil rights issues for the American Bar Association and the Texas Bar Association, and has lectured on a variety of employment law issues for the California CEB (Continuing Education of the Bar), the Orange County Bar Association, client management and personnel officials, and other employers and trade associations.
Awards & Affiliations
Awards & Honors
- Top 75 Labor & Employment Attorneys in California, Daily Journal, 2019
- Top 75 Labor & Employment Attorneys in California, Daily Journal, 2014
- Best Lawyers in America, 2009-2020
- Southern California “Super Lawyers” 2005-2019
- AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis/Martindale Hubbell
Memberships & Associations
- Member, Board of Directors, Second Harvest Food Bank Orange County
- State Bar of California (Labor and Employment Law Section)
- American Bar Association (Litigation, Labor and Employment Law Sections)
- Orange County Bar Association (Labor & Employment Law Section (Section Chairperson, 1992-93))