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Saturday, Jun 15, 2024

Special Report: Who’s Who In Law – Samantha Grant

SAMANTHA GRANT

REED SMITH LLP, Partner

Grant

Samantha Grant, a partner with both the Century City and downtown offices of Reed Smith, is considered a strategic and pragmatic attorney in her labor and employment practice.

Having joined Reed Smith last year, Grant counts a two-year secondment — working both with her prior firm and also with another business — as in-house counsel with a Fortune 50 company as an important step in her career. Outside of her firm work, Grant is also involved with a variety of professional organizations, including the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, the N-Gen Advisory Board and the American Bar Association.

How did you discover your interest in law? And how did you arrive at your specialty?

While I attended the University of Toronto, I did internships with government agencies, and my first internship was with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, a federal agency that works to investigate and resolve discrimination complaints. As the intake officer for the Ontario region, my job was to evaluate these complaints to determine whether they fell within the ambit of the Canadian Human Rights Act and, where appropriate, to try to negotiate early resolutions with employers, employees and sometimes unions. I found the work and the cases to be very interesting, and when I applied to law school I knew that I wanted to be a labor and employment attorney.

Tell us about the most noteworthy or interesting case (or cases) that you’ve been involved with.

Years ago, I worked on the Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television case, which went to the California Supreme Court and generated widespread attention with several amicus curiae briefs filed on both sides of the case. The plaintiff, a writers’ assistant on the TV show “Friends,” filed a complaint that alleged that listening to the sexual banter in the writers’ room constituted sexual harassment. Because we filed a summary judgment motion, the Supreme Court had to accept as true the plaintiff’s allegations and consider the evidence in the most favorable light to her, which we could not contradict with our evidence. Nonetheless, the California Supreme Court held that, under the circumstances, particularly because the environment for producing the “Friends” show was a creative workplace generating adult-oriented comedy scripts that sometimes featured sexual themes, no reasonable trier of fact could conclude such language constituted sexual harassment. The case is a landmark decision, and the California Supreme Court opinion is still cited frequently to this day.

Are any new regulations or pieces of legislation in Los Angeles or California creating new or more work for you and your practice?

The relatively recent changes to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act are having a significant impact on the litigation of employment cases. The statute of limitations for filing FEHA charges was extended from one year to three years, so employees now have three years to file an administrative charge and another year after receiving their right-to-sue notice to file a civil complaint. As such, employers are in the position of defending actions based on alleged violations that occurred four years prior to the filing of a lawsuit, which brings unique challenges. The longer filing period may make defending these cases more difficult because records may no longer be accessible, employees may have left the company and memories may have faded.

There have been recent California and federal laws enacted that relate to confidentiality and non-disclosure provisions in employment and separation agreements. Indeed, the National Labor Relations Board just recently issued a decision further limiting an employer’s ability to keep workplace information confidential. Employers need to be mindful of this landscape and are seeking advice on how to conform their agreements.

  

How did the pandemic affect your career, and what do you think is on the horizon for the legal industry?

I was elected chair-elect of the Section of Labor and Employment Law of the American Bar Association in August 2019. I was the first woman of color to serve in this role and was doing so when Covid-19 hit. I became chair in August 2020, when the world was still in the relatively early throes of the pandemic. The whole world was changing and workplaces were adapting to a new reality. I was particularly focused on helping labor and employment lawyers navigate workplace challenges and being able to advise clients on new and evolving law and agency guidance. Given the Section of Labor and Employment Law has tens of thousands of members who represent employees, unions, employers, government, judges, academics and others, we were uniquely positioned to educate and share perspectives from all of these differing constituencies.

Concurrent with the pandemic was the global reckoning on racial equity. I worked to ensure that the Section of Labor and Employment Law played an important role in the conversation by sharing information with the legal and broader communities across the country to advance deeper understanding of the intersections of race, power and privilege and to facilitate discussions on these topics.  

How did you find your way to working in-house for a Fortune 50 company, and how has that prepared you for where you are in your career today?

I have always enjoyed working at a firm as an advocate, but while I was at a prior firm, a global company interviewed the firm and chose me to be seconded as in-house labor and employment counsel. I was seconded for two years and made partner the year I completed the secondment.

Unquestionably, the secondment was an invaluable experience that has made me a more-effective outside counsel. I had a front-row seat to what HR and business leaders require of their in-house counsel. I learned to think from the in-house attorney perspective, which allows me to more effectively provide advice to them. This experience has also made me more strategic and pragmatic with my clients and caused me to recognize the importance of learning the clients’ business and industry and to consider the impact of litigation on the company’s operations.

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