Stephen P. Sonnenberg, Esq. has deep experience in understanding and resolving complex labor and employment disputes. Mr. Sonnenberg’s unique background, which allows him to understand both plaintiff and defendant concerns, comes from the practice of law, experience as a mediator, and prior experience as a psychotherapist. He is also a member of the JAMS Title IX panel. Mr. Sonnenberg is known for his attention to detail, thoughtful approach to emotion-laden disputes, and demeanor conducive to settlement.
Mr. Sonnenberg has mediated numerous Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state law wage and hour collective and class actions involving employees and companies in the retail, hospitality, technology, health care and transportation industries, among others. These actions have involved state-specific, multi-state and nationwide claims. When mediating a putative or certified collective or class action Mr. Sonnenberg draws upon not only his prior experience mediating complex class claims but his earlier practice litigating wage and hour matters in both California and New York.
Mr. Sonnenberg practiced labor and employment law at the highest levels for 25 years at Paul Hastings, a prominent AMLAW 100 firm, and achieved a prestigious ranking from Chambers USA, within the Labor & Employment band. Leadership roles at the firm included a term as Chair of the New York Employment Law Practice (2014-2017), Vice Chair of the Employment Law Department (International) (2003-2014) and Co-Chair of the Employment Law Department’s national wage and hour law practice (2005-2014). Resident for an equal amount of time in the firm’s Los Angeles and New York offices, Mr. Sonnenberg represented and advised clients in a wide range of employment disputes, including retaliation, wrongful discharge, restrictive covenant, discrimination and harassment lawsuits, as well as wage and hour class and collective actions. He has also overseen and conducted privileged internal investigations in response to complaints of misconduct.
Before practicing law, Mr. Sonnenberg devoted himself to a 15-year career as a clinical social worker in Michigan and California. Mr. Sonnenberg worked in diverse psychiatric settings and community organizations, assisting individuals with a wide range of emotional, vocational and financial challenges, including facilitating the resolution of disputes with family members, employers and other third parties. Settings included psychiatric hospitals, a community mental health center, and the private practice of psychotherapy working with individuals, couples and families.
Mr. Sonnenberg has mediated numerous matters not only at JAMS but as a member of the Mediation Panels of the U.S. District Court, Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. He has taught employment law to members of the federal judiciary through the Federal Judicial Center, has provided employment law training and advice in a variety of settings, and is an adjunct faculty member at Cardozo Law School.
ADR Experience and Qualifications
Mr. Sonnenberg has mediated the following matters, among others:
- Gender-based hostile work environment claims coupled with allegations of psychological trauma and intentional infliction of emotional distress, brought by a C-Suite executive in the financial services industry
- High profile civil rights action against the City of New York by a public benefits recipient, including claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and excessive force
- Hospitality industry putative collective and class actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Law premised on claims of tip misappropriation, minimum wage violations and time-shaving
- Conditionally certified FLSA and Rule 23 class action brought by maintenance and service employees of a national real estate company premised on alleged unpaid wages for “non-productive” hours worked and unpaid overtime wages
- Sexual harassment, assault and retaliation claims brought by a transportation industry employee against her employer and multiple coworkers coupled with allegations of severe posttraumatic stress disorder
- Whistleblowing and complex contractual severance pay claims brought by a physician / high-level administrator against health care industry companies
- Hostile work environment sexual harassment claims against restaurant industry executives and principals
- Multistate claims of unpaid overtime wages and technical violations of the FLSA and state laws in a grocery store industry putative collective and class action
- Negligence and emotional distress claims against a nonprofit mental health and social service agency arising from alleged sexual abuse of residents
- Psychiatric disability discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and New York Human Rights Law brought by a medical professional against a hospital following a disability leave of absence and termination; significant emotional distress damages alleged
- Putative FLSA collective and class action against restaurants by employees alleging improper tip credits, unpaid overtime, non-compliant recordkeeping and other statutory violations
- Website access disability discrimination under the ADA and New York State and City Human Rights Laws; putative class actions by visually impaired persons alleging they were unable to access the defendants' goods and services due to website access barriers and non-compliance with the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative
- Claims against a media company by a putative class of hearing-impaired individuals alleging website access disability discrimination under the ADA and New York State and City Human Rights Laws
- Title VII sexual harassment and retaliatory termination claims against an automotive industry company
- Claims by multiple individuals against a municipality for civil rights violations; allegations that claimants were wrongfully arrested, maliciously prosecuted and deprived of their Constitutional rights
- Age discrimination and retaliation claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and New York Human Rights Law brought by an account executive at a technology company alleging comparative sales results warranted neither a performance improvement plan nor termination; sales targets, results and analyses in dispute
- Multi-plaintiff sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and religious discrimination claims coupled with claims for unpaid overtime due to misclassification as outside salespersons; claims for unlawful deductions under state law due to commission charge-backs
- Compensation-based gender discrimination claims brought against a regulated financial services industry company involving comparative pay statistical analyses
- National origin, race discrimination and hostile work environment claims by a terminated employee claiming that a university treated workers of Indian / Asian descent more favorably than African-American workers
- Constructive discharge, race and color discrimination, and retaliation claims against a not-for-profit hospital arising from separation of employment during a reduction-in-force
- Claims by multiple construction industry workers against a contractor / employer alleging they worked off the clock and were not paid minimum wage under the FLSA and state law
- Disability discrimination claims against a beauty care industry employer grounded on allegations of failure to accommodate an employee’s chronic and progressively deteriorating physical impairment; accompanying wage and hour claims based on alleged misclassification and failure to pay overtime wages
Mr. Sonnenberg has acquired and displayed significant expertise in a wide-range of Labor & Employment law matters, including:
- Employment matters involving claims of breach of contract, sexual harassment, and discrimination (age, gender, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation), hostile work environment, wrongful termination, restrictive covenant violations, and claims related to the ADA and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Fair Labor Standards Act exemptions, unlawful deductions, and state wage and hour law disputes involving individual employees, class actions and collective actions
- Executive compensation disputes regarding bonuses, commissions, severance, and equity valuation
- Retaliation claims under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Dodd-Frank Act and other federal and state laws such as Title VII, the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act
- Advice regarding disciplinary decisions impacting high-level personnel subject to internal audit committee investigations, regulatory enforcement and white collar criminal investigations
- Pay equity claims against financial services companies and academic institutions
- Claims grounded on psychiatric disabilities and on emotional trauma (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder) arising from alleged workplace harassment and discrimination. Claims dependent on expert testimony by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals and testimony by treating therapists
- Claims in the entertainment and media industries ranging from disputes over executive employment contracts to allegations of sexual harassment
- Wage and hour litigation and counseling under New York and California laws. Multistate wage and hour collective and class actions alleging misclassification of workers under the “white collar” exemptions, misclassification of categories of workers as independent contractors, failure to pay non-exempt workers for time worked before and after their shifts (“off-the-clock”), improper “rounding” of hours worked, and technical violations under the FLSA and various state wage and hour laws
- National origin and race discrimination claims brought by American employees of companies with corporate parents based in Asia