Lozano Smith's attorneys serve as labor and employment counsel to hundreds of public agencies across the State of California. The firm's expertise covers the full spectrum of labor and employment law; from hiring employees and drafting employment contracts, to collective bargaining, contract grievances and matters of discrimination, retaliation, and misconduct, to layoffs, discipline, and dismissals. We are well qualified to provide legal assistance on virtually any labor and personnel issue involving certificated, classified, and administrative employees.

Areas of Practice

The attorneys in Lozano Smith's Labor and Employment Practice Group provide the following services, among others:

Human Resources/Personnel Matters

  • Legal counsel on major and minor discipline: counseling, warnings, reprimands, suspensions, demotions, and dismissals
  • Legal counsel on reductions in force (layoffs), last chance agreements, severance and settlement agreements
  • Legal counsel on fringe benefits issues for current and retired employees: health and welfare benefits generally and public pension benefits (CalPERS and CalSTRS)
  • Legal counsel on wage and hour claims and concerns
  • Legal counsel regarding subpoenas for employee records and employee testimony
  • Legal counsel regarding an employee's request for defense and indemnity for workplace actions
  • Legal counsel regarding issues of on-campus drugs, alcohol, firearms, child abuse, sexual misconduct, and other workplace safety concerns
  • Legal counsel regarding employee privacy rights whether at the workplace, off-duty, or in on-line activities
  • Legal counsel regarding leaves of absence, including FMLA, CFRA, PDL, ADA, industrial accident, differential, and catastrophic leave
  • Training services required by AB 1825 for anti-sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as workplace bullying
  • Conducting/overseeing workplace investigations, including complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and whistleblowing
  • Defense counsel in litigation regarding workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation
  • Defense counsel in DFEH, EEOC, DIR, and OCR complaints including preparation of employer responses and a defense against claims
  • Legal counsel regarding state and federal disability accommodations, including the interactive process and defending against claims

Employee Relations/Negotiations

  • Chief Negotiator, or advising and supporting the District's Chief Negotiator, on collective bargaining issues including, but not limited to, salaries and benefits, furlough days and salary rollbacks, work hours and work year, contracting out work, and the effects of non-negotiable decisions
  • Legal counsel in PERB statutory impasse procedures, including mediation, factfinding, strike preparations, and post-factfinding implementation
  • Defense counsel in contractual grievance arbitration
  • Legal counsel in PERB litigation on unfair labor practice charges that include bad faith bargaining, contracting out, interference, and discrimination/retaliation
  • Legal counsel regarding labor organizing, bargaining unit determination and modification, and employee representation rights

Employment Litigation

While a significant portion of our firm's efforts are dedicated to conducting labor negotiations and providing employment advice, our attorneys have extensive experience at trial and appellate level employment litigation on behalf of public agency and school district clients. Our advice and advocacy has been sought in numerous sensitive, high profile cases and our attorneys have argued before the California Courts of Appeal, the California Supreme Court, and administrative agencies including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).

Our attorneys have handled discrimination and civil rights litigation from the filing of the complaint through the rendering of a jury verdict in both state and federal courts.

Our attorneys are experienced in personnel disputes related to disabled employees and employees returning from work-related injuries. We have devised and implemented an interactive process to assist staff in reviewing requests for accommodation from employees with disabilities including returning employees to work.

We have represented and defended public sector employers in matters involving all of the following state and federal labor laws:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA)
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
  • Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991
  • Unruh Civil Rights Act
  • The California Fair Employment and Housing Act

Investigations - Learn more

The inherent seriousness and sensitivity of workplace investigations often obligates an employer to hire an independent investigator to conduct a prompt and comprehensive investigation. Lozano Smith's Investigative Services Team, a specialist group within our Labor & Employment Practice Group, recognizes the challenges that come with investigations of employee, student, and parent complaints. These attorneys have expertly served as investigators and advisors to clients on a broad range of complaints and can help your district to navigate the investigations process. Working alongside K-12 school districts, community colleges, universities and other public agencies, the Investigative Services Team supports management in reviewing and responding to employee, student, and parent complaints in a fair, impartial, and legally compliant manner.

Title IX Impact Team

Title IX has taken center stage on a number of fronts. Long before the national attention, Lozano Smith’s Title IX Impact Team was formed as a specialized group dedicated to the pressing issues faced by school districts. From athletics to sexual violence, this team advises, trains, and educates clients on the various components of Title IX – from prevention and mitigation to investigation and response. The Title IX Impact Team draws from multiple practice groups and focuses to streamline advice and counsel. Areas in which the group provides advice and training include:

  • Audit of athletic programs
  • Audit of grievance procedures and policies
  • Discipline of employees and students
  • Sexual misconduct and harassment
  • Student and employee protections
  • Investigations
  • Title IX Coordinator roles and responsibilities
  • District and employee liability
  • Interaction with law enforcement agencies
  • Litigation

Training and Preventive Measures

The Labor and Employment Practice Group conducts a Legal Consortium for clients and countless in-service trainings and webinars each year. The seminars are conducted throughout the state and also for individual clients, as requested. They provide in-depth information on a variety of topics to keep attendees informed on latest legislation, case law and legal trends. Recent topics include Teacher Classification, Employee Discipline, Employee Evaluations and Uniform Investigations and Complaint Processes.

The Labor and Employment Practice Group has expertly provided legal counsel to school districts and other public agencies in both high-profile disputes and everyday transactions. Our attorneys are acutely aware of the financial and practical constraints placed on school districts and other public agencies in the current economic climate and we work with our clients to explore all options toward achieving a practical, effective, and cost-efficient resolution of their concerns.

Proactive Resolutions

The firm encourages its clients to build strong institutional knowledge of best practices in personnel matters, to consider alternative dispute resolution (including mediation when feasible), and to be proactive in resolving issues before they become costly problems. When litigation is unavoidable, our attorneys have successfully defended clients and prosecuted their claims in administrative hearings and in the courtroom.


Carolyn L. Gemma Senior Counsel
Los Angeles, San Diego dkameya@lozanosmith.com
Desiree  Serrano Senior Counsel
Eleanor M. Welke Senior Counsel
Erin M. Hamor Senior Counsel
Fabiola M. Rivera Senior Counsel
Fresno, Sacramento, Bakersfield jbehrens@lozanosmith.com
Walnut Creek, Sacramento, San Diego krezendes@lozanosmith.com
Los Angeles, Bakersfield mkitabayashi@lozanosmith.com
Fresno, Bakersfield msmith@lozanosmith.com
Roxana E. Khan Senior Counsel
Ryan P. Tung Senior Counsel
Los Angeles, Walnut Creek rtung@lozanosmith.com
Sarah E. Fama Senior Counsel
Walnut Creek sfama@lozanosmith.com
Stephanie M. White Senior Counsel
Walnut Creek swhite@lozanosmith.com
Steve  Ngo Partner
Walnut Creek sngo@lozanosmith.com

Contracting COVID-19 While Working Could Make Employees Eligible for Workers’ Compensation Benefits

By:Gabriela Flowers, Sarah Fama -

May 2020 Number 45 On May 6, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-62-20, the latest in a series of Executive Orders expanding protections for workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This order imposes a presumption that a California worker working outside their home who contracts COVID-19 has contracted the illness at work, making them eligible for workers' compensation benefits. The presumption remains in place from March 19, 2020, through July 5, 2020, and can be rebu...

Title IX and “Pre-Assault”: Closing the Flood Gates

By:Marisa Lincoln, Marisa Montenegro -

May 2020Number 37A new ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals amended a January 2020 opinion on the liability of colleges and universities for “pre-assault claims,” or the argument that inadequate Title IX policies created a “heightened risk” of sexual misconduct. The intent of the amendment was to clarify the test for liability with respect to such “pre-assault claims,” limiting exposure of Title IX liability to cases where the claimant can show the ...

Appellate Court Clarifies When School Employees are Eligible for Unemployment

By:Gabriela Flowers, Allison Hernandez -

May 2020Number 36In United Educators of San Francisco, AFT/CFT, AFL-CIO, NEA/CTA v. California Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (“United Educators”), the Supreme Court of California clarified when and how educational employees might be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits during the summer break. When a school employee receives a reasonable assurance letter to work for the following school year, expects to work during summer school, but ultimately does not perform the expecte...

Industrial Disability Retirement May Still Be Considered a Constructive Discharge

By:Jenell Van Bindsbergen, Lindsey Zwicker -

May 2020Number 34On January 28, 2020, the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District revived a former California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer’s claims that he was forced to quit because he is openly gay. In Brome v. California Highway Patrol, the Court of Appeal held that a workers’ compensation claim could extend the statute of limitations for filing a complaint of discrimination and that an industrial disability retirement could still be considered a constructiv...

Recent Executive Orders Increase Access to Childcare for Essentials Workers

By:Aimee Perry, Kate Holding -

April 2020Number 33In the wake of statewide school closures, workers combatting COVID-19 on the front lines have encountered difficulties finding childcare while they go to work. In an effort to assist these essential infrastructure workers, on April 4 and 7, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Orders (EO) N-45-20 and N-47-20. Both EOs temporarily waive certain Education Code provisions regarding childcare and development services provided by local educational agencies (LEAs) to chil...

Classified Layoffs - in the Age of COVID-19

By:Darren Kameya, Marina Ramirez -

April 2020Number 31Public school districts are faced with unprecedented times this school year due to the global pandemic of coronavirus (COVID-19). As a result, California public school districts closed down their facilities in the middle of March and are now preparing to end the school year in a distance learning environment. At this time, we do not know whether school districts will continue with distance learning when the 2020-21 school year starts in August 2020.Amidst school closures an...

Framework for Labor-Management Collaboration Jointly Issued by Governor and Statewide Organizations

By:Michelle Cannon, Courtney de Groof -

April 2020Number 20On April 1, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California labor and management organizations have jointly agreed to a framework for collaboration during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency. The announcement comes at a time when local education agencies (LEAs) and bargaining units across California are working together to resolve issues related to the evolving developments and growing uncertainties related to COVID-19. The framework is intended to assist LEAs ...

Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Temporary Employer-Paid Sick Leave and Employer-Paid FMLA Leave for Childcare

By:Gabriela Flowers, Jenell Van Bindsbergen, Kate Holding -

March 2020Number 17In response to the nationwide economic disruption and uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, Congress passed, and the President signed, the "Families First Coronavirus Response Act" (H.R. 6201), which became law on March 18, 2020. While H.R. 6201 provides federal assistance in a range of areas, this Client News Brief focuses on relief provided by H.R. 6201 in the form of employer-paid sick leave for individuals and families unable to work due to the virus or its ...

Public Agency Employer Responses to COVID-19: Labor and Employment Implications

By:Gabriela Flowers, Derek Ulmer -

March 2020Number 12BackgroundWith growing concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, public agency employers are taking proactive steps to limit exposure and further transmission. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been providing regular updates and recommendations for employers, which should be closely monitored and followed.The following is some general guidance from a labor and employment ...

Creditable Compensation for Paid Administrative Leave Under Review by CalSTRS

By:Thomas Manniello, Janae Castellani -

February 2020Number 10On January 23, 2020, the California State Teachers' Retirement System ("CalSTRS") issued an Employer Information Circular taking a restrictive position regarding what leaves count for the purpose of calculating creditable compensation under the Teachers' Retirement Law. The CalSTRS Employer Circular is located here.Creditable compensation is a term set forth in the Education Code that represents all compensation reportable to CalSTRS for an employee's performance of cred...

Representative Cases

Lozano Smith represented the City of Los Angeles in one of the largest class action disability lawsuits in the country. In Willits, Mark, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, the plaintiff filed an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint to install curb cuts and sidewalk repairs throughout the City, to enforce the ADA. This case involved extensive E-Discovery of the City and its various departments’ internal data management system. The recently negotiated settlement will allow the City to completely revitalize its public right-of-ways to assure that all of the residents and visitors are able to fully participate in all of the available programs and services offered by the City.
In Avila v. City of Los Angeles, et al., U.S.D.C. Central District of California, Case No. 2:11-cv-1326-SJO-FMO, Lozano Smith successfully defended the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Police Department in an employment case. Following testimony, Lozano Smith asked the judge to dismiss certain claims because the officer had not introduced sufficient evidence. The judge agreed in part, and the jury was only asked to consider the officer's claims concerning retaliation under the FLSA and due process violations. The City and the LAPD prevailed on the due process claim, and liability for the FLSA claim was limited to 1% of the damages sought by the plaintiff.
Shiell, et al. v. County of Los Angeles, et al., Los Angeles County Superior Court Case No. BC208582, Equal protection action claiming staff members of a non-profit, public benefit corporation were entitled to the same rights, salaries and benefits of County employees because they performed the same work. A dispositive motion was brought on 3 issues: 1) statute of limitations; 2) entitlement to civil service; and 3) entitlement to County retirement benefits. The motion was decided in the County's favor.
Hall, et al. v. County of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case No. BC208583, Approximately 200 female attorneys of a non-profit, public benefit corporation brought a sex discrimination suit claiming they were not receiving the same salaries and benefits as male employees of the County, even though they were doing the same work. The County brought a dispositive motion on the grounds that plaintiffs were using improper male comparators and had not shown any indicia of discrimination. The motion was granted in the County's favor.
Chisom v. Board of Retirement of County of Fresno Employees' Retirement Association (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 400. A recent published decision upholding a decade-old settlement agreement and rejecting a group of retired Fresno County employees' attempt to use parole evidence to advance an interpretation of the settlement agreement that would have allowed the former employees to pursue their claims for an "enhanced" non-service-connected disability retirement benefit.
McIntyre v. Sonoma Valley Unified School District (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 170. Lozano Smith attorneys successfully defended the school district against employee challenge to status and nonreelection. The California Court of Appeal reaffirmed key legal principles by holding that the school district correctly classified the employee as a temporary employee and then properly converted her to a probationary employee and properly and timely nonreelected employee during her second year of probationary employment.
Hildebrandt v. St. Helena Unified School District (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 334. Lozano Smith attorneys authored an amicus brief on behalf of the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and asserted arguments that were adopted by the Court of Appeal in regard to bumping rights in a certificated layoff. This important case established a school district's right to refuse to "split" an existing full-time certificated position during a certificated layoff to accommodate a more senior employee's desire to "partially bump" into a more junior employee's assignment.
In Rimando v. Alum Rock Union Elementary School District, et al. (9th Cir. 2009) 356 Fed.Appx. 989, Lozano Smith successfully argued that a California public school district is a "State employer" for purposes of the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) and consequently suits against school districts under USERRA must be filed in state court. The Rimando decision is the first of its kind by the Ninth Circuit to address USERRA suits brought against California public school districts.
Atwater Elementary School Dist. v. Department of General Services (2007) 41 Cal.4th 227. Lozano Smith attorneys successfully represented a school district and convinced the California Supreme Court to issue a landmark decision holding that the four-year limitations period for a school district to bring dismissal charges against a teacher is not absolute. As a result, the Supreme Court adopted the school district's contention that the four-year period should be extended based on principles of equity to permit the District to introduce evidence of sexual misconduct that was discovered by the district many years after it occurred. This important case strengthens the ability of all public school districts to impose discipline against certificated employees.