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 in both California and New York, his 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. He is a member of the New York Bar and the State Bar of California and has resolved numerous disputes nationwide.
In addition to mediating a wide variety of discrimination, harassment and retaliation actions, Mr. Sonnenberg has mediated numerous Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state law wage and hour collective and class actions. These have involved employees and companies in the technology, media and entertainment, retail, hospitality, health care and transportation industries, among others. These actions have included state-specific, multi-state and nationwide claims. When mediating a putative or certified collective or class action matter, Mr. Sonnenberg not only draws upon his prior experience mediating complex class claims, but also 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 multi-state class and collective actions. He has resolved numerous labor and employment disputes on both the East Coast and in California, including a variety of matters within the media and entertainment industry.
Before practicing law, Mr. Sonnenberg devoted himself to a 15-year career as a psychotherapist 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 numerous 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
- Age discrimination, retaliation and breach of employment contract claims against California-based media and entertainment company
- 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
- Claims against a west coast ridesharing company arising from alleged breach of driver license agreements
- 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
- 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
- Mediation of multiple, prepetition, putative wage and hour class and collective actions against the bankruptcy estate of a transportation debtor pursuant to a stipulation and order of the United States Bankruptcy Court referring the matters to mediation
- Age and disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit by a member of the faculty at a private liberal arts college arising from denial of tenure and promotion
- Whistleblowing and complex contractual severance pay claims brought by a physician / high-level administrator against health care industry companies
- Putative class actions seeking to recover unpaid penalties and premium payments under the New York City Fair Workweek Law, as well as unpaid wages and penalties under the FLSA and New York Labor Law
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Age discrimination and retaliation claims under the ADEA 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
- Claims in the entertainment and media industries ranging from disputes over executive employment contracts to allegations of sexual harassment
- 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 TV production companies, 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
- 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
- Fellow, College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, 2013 - present
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (California; inactive status)
- Member, New York University Center for Labor and Employment Law Advisory Board, 2014 - present
- Member, New York City Bar Association Labor and Employment Law Committee
- Member, Los Angeles County Bar Association
- The Best Lawyers in America, 2006-2022
- Ranked in Chambers USA, New York, Labor & Employment
- Rated “AV Preeminent” by Martindale-Hubbell®
- Member, Mediation Panels of the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York
- JDSupra.com, The Surge in Workplace Disputes Under Disability Discrimination Laws: Good News or Bad News? (October 15, 2021)
- JAMS ADR Insights, Mediating Emotional Employment Law Disputes During COVID-19 (August 10, 2021)
- The American Lawyer, Psychological Issues in the Workplace (November 1, 2020)
- Survey of Selected Mental Distress Awards Within the Second Circuit, Practising Law Institute, Litigation and Administrative Practice Series, Number H-1093 (April 2018)
- The New York Law Journal, Mediating Highly Emotional Workplace Disputes (March 19, 2018)
- Cutting-Edge Employment Law Issues 2016: The California Difference, Practising Law Institute, What Makes Lawyers Tick? Competence Issues for California Employment Lawyers
- The New York Law Journal, Mental Stability at Work: An Assessment (June 12, 2015)
- The New York Law Journal, Representative Evidence in Wage and Hour Class Litigation (October 24, 2014)
- The New York Law Journal, Workplace Violence; Employee Rights, Employer Recourse (October 21, 2013)
- Managing Wage & Hour Risks 2011, Practising Law Institute, Class Certification and Related Discovery and Investigations
- The New York Law Journal, Reasonable Accommodation, Undue Hardship: a Delicate Balance (December 8, 2011)
- The New York Law Journal, Litigating Multi-District Employment Actions After ‘Dukes’ (November 14, 2011)
- The New York Law Journal, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (March 29, 2010)
- Los Angeles Daily Journal, Employee Genetic Information, Now Protected (November 2009)
- The New York Law Journal, Wage and Hour Actions Continue to Surge (February 17, 2009)
- The New York Law Journal, Settling High Stakes Wage, Hour Litigation Via CAFA (April 11, 2007)
- Panelist: Center for Labor and Employment Law and the NYU School of Law, Effective Employment Law Arbitration & Mediation (March 2022, New York)
- Panelist: Practising Law Institute, Understanding Employment Law 2022 (March 2022, New York)
- Moderator: New York State Bar Association, 2022 Annual Meeting & Virtual Conference (January 2022, New York)
- Program Chair: Practising Law Institute, Psychological Issues In the Workplace 2021 (October 2021, New York)
- Panelist: Beverly Hills Bar Association and New York County Lawyers Association, Mediation Ethics and Practice: East vs West, New York and California (July 2021)
- Panelist: Practising Law Institute, Arbitration of Employment Discrimination Claims (June 2021, New York)
- Panelist: Practising Law Institute, Understanding Employment Law 2021 -- Workplace Leave and Accommodation Fundamentals (March 2021, New York)
- Program Chair: Practising Law Institute’s program, Psychological Issues In the Workplace 2020 (October 2020, New York)
- Panelist: Practising Law Institute, Understanding Employment Law 2020 -- Workplace Leave and Accommodation Fundamentals (March 2020, New York)
- Program Chair: Practising Law Institute’s program, Psychological Issues In the Workplace 2019 (April 2019, New York)
- Faculty at the 22nd Annual NYU Workshop on Employment Law for Federal Judges, Medical and Scientific Issues in the Workplace (March 2019)
- Panelist: Mediation Impasse-Breaking Techniques, New York State Bar Association, Dispute Resolution Section Fall Meeting (October 2018, New York)
- Panelist: Managing Risk and Creating Safe Workplaces, New York State Bar Association, Labor and Employment Law Section (October 2018, Montreal)
- Panelist: National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), NELA Nite: Mediation Alternatives in NYC (June 2018)
- Moderator: NYU School of Law - Center for Labor and Employment Law program, 71st Annual Conference on Labor and Employment Law (June 2018)
- Program Chair: Practising Law Institute’s program, Psychological Issues In the Workplace 2018 (April 2018, New York)
- Faculty at the 21st Annual NYU Workshop on Employment Law for Federal Judges, Medical Issues in the Workplace (March 2018)
- Practising Law Institute: Panel member at Employment Law Institute 2017 – Workplace Violence (October 2017, New York)
- Program Chair: Practising Law Institute’s program, Psychological Issues In the Workplace 2017 (May 2017, New York)
- New York State Bar Association, Alternative Dispute Resolution Section Committee; Emotions in Mediation (April 2017)
- Faculty at the 20th Annual NYU Workshop on Employment Law for Federal Judges, Implicit Bias (March 2017)
- Practising Law Institute: Speaker on attorney competence issues at Cutting Edge Employment Law Issues – the California Difference (October 2016, San Francisco)
- U.S. District Court, Eastern District New York, Fair Labor Standards Act training for mediators (September 2016)
- Faculty at the 19th Annual NYU Workshop on Employment Law for Federal Judges, Evidence Issues / Use of Experts (March 2016)
- Program Chair: Practising Law Institute’s programs, Psychological Issues In Employment Law 2016 (March 2016, New York), Psychological Issues In Employment Law 2015 (March 2015, New York), and Psychological Issues In Employment Law 2014 (March 2015, New York)
- National Employment Lawyers Association (New York), Psychological Issues In Employment Law (October 2015)
- Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Understanding Whistleblowers and Retaliation Claims (October 2015, New York)
- Faculty at the 18th Annual NYU Workshop on Employment Law for Federal Judges, Evidence Issues / Use of Experts (March 2015)
- New York University 67th Annual Conference on Labor: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act After 50 Years; The Use of Psychological Experts (June 2014, New York)
- Upper Midwest Employment Law Institute, Minnesota Bar Association: Plenary session speaker, Recent Developments Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (April 2014, Minneapolis)
- Practising Law Institute: Panel member at Employment Law Institute 2014, Employment Law Institute 2013 and Employment Law Institute 2012 (New York)
- American Conference Institute: Speaker at National Forum on Wage & Hour Claims and Class Actions (May 2013, May 2012, May 2011, May 2010, and May 2009, New York)
- Practising Law Institute: Speaker at Managing Wage and Hour Risks 2012 (New York), Managing Wage and Hour Risks 2011 (New York), and Managing Wage and Hour Risks 2010 (New York)
- Paul Hastings, LLP, 1993-2017
- Clinical Social Worker (psychotherapist), Ann Arbor, MI; Los Angeles, CA, 1977-1992
- Bar Admissions: New York, California, District of Columbia
- J.D., University of Southern California, Gould School of Law, 1992
- M.S.W., University of Michigan, 1977
- B.A., Binghamton University, 1974
- "Stephen is a highly-skilled and indefatigable neutral who is unfailingly prepared and facile on an array of topics. Stephen is as fine a Mediator as we have ever used and his ethics and analysis are absolutely first-rate."
- "I’ve been practicing law for 30 years and have been involved in over a hundred mediations. Stephen is one of the most talented and effective mediators I’ve encountered. He is extremely smart, perceptive, creative and persistent. Although scrupulously neutral and fair, he manages to genuinely connect with all parties and counsel to facilitate the kind of communication and exchange necessary for dispute resolution."
- "Stephen Sonnenberg is a phenomenal mediator. Whether it is a discrimination, wage & hour, leave, or other employment law issue, Steve is the mediator who is always at the top of my list. His demeanor, intelligence, legal acumen, and practicality creates trust among the parties allowing them to reach creative solutions to resolve difficult cases. He has the experience to deal with high-level executives and the empathy to handle emotional plaintiffs. He is easy with which to work whether it be a single plaintiff case or a class action. In my opinion, when there is an employment law dispute, the mediator you want is Steve Sonnenberg."
- "Stephen has mediated a number of wage and hour class actions at the request of our firm. Recently, he skillfully resolved a large class action resulting in a just and fair outcome. With notice of his involvement, the court took the rare step of forgoing a hearing and preliminarily approved the settlement on the motion papers. It is rare that a mediator possesses the combination of skills Stephen possesses. He is both patient and direct in dealing with the parties. He is a lucid and creative thinker. And, most importantly, he is able to evaluate the stakes intuitively and objectively. The former would be enough to pursue his services repeatedly, but the latter makes him uniquely qualified to handle the bigger disputes where the stakes are complicated and require a rare combination of insight and intelligence. I highly recommend him."
- "My firm recently worked with Steve Sonnenberg to mediate a high-profile Section 1983 civil rights action brought by my client against a municipality. Steve was incredibly engaged in the process, and laser focused on helping the parties to resolve the case – which we did. He is an active mediator who is always looking for ways to move the process forward. He is creative, patient, analytical, kind, and tireless in his efforts, and brings the credibility of many decades as a litigator to the process. He is respectful of everyone's views and listens deeply, which is critical to his success in contentious disputes."
- "Stephen was the perfect mediator for our FLSA class action case. His experience made him an authoritative and credible influence on counsel, and his style was understated but effective. I highly recommend him for employment disputes."
- "I’ve had the pleasure of working with Stephen on numerous matters, all of which successfully resolved due to his experience, skill, preparation, and most importantly, the trust he engenders with counsel and clientele. Stephen is our go-to Mediator for the most difficult cases."
- "Steve is truly one of the best mediators I have had the pleasure to work with. His patience and attention to detail are unmatched. As a former social worker, he is highly skilled in listening and showing compassion to the parties. Simultaneously, his experience as a litigator allows him to take a more firm approach with the participants when that is needed. I am proud to say that every case Steve has mediated for my clients have successfully reached a resolution."
- "My recent experience with Mr. Sonnenberg, on a contentious employment discrimination matter, was my first mediation with him, and will not be the last. He was persistent and tireless in his efforts to bring the parties toward a middle ground, both during and after the mediation session, and our interactions were always pleasant and respectful of my client’s position and view of the case. We ultimately reached a settlement that was, of course, equally painful to both parties. But it came to fruition, months after the mediation session, in no small part due to Steve’s indefatigable work."
- "I am extremely impressed by your mediation skills. You advocated for a solution with sensitivity and demonstrated tremendous patience as well as expertise with the subject matter. You established trust immediately, which was instrumental in achieving consensus on settlement terms."
- "Steve Sonnenberg has all the core qualities I look for in a mediator, including legal acumen, diligence and creative problem solving skills. What sets Steve apart is his unique ability to connect with people across a wide spectrum and understand their unique experiences, an ability he no doubt honed during his prior life as a psychotherapist. This helps Steve gain the trust and confidence of parties holding widely different perspectives and agendas, and in my experience, allows him to be particularly effective in the context of divisive and difficult-to-resolve cases."
- "Stephen was a pleasure to work with. He had a thorough understanding of the legal issues at hand, and he worked tirelessly and delicately to achieve a settlement in an extremely difficult multi-party negotiation. I have since recommended him strongly to adversaries in my own cases and to other attorneys seeking mediator recommendations."
- "Stephen has mediated several employment discrimination and wage and hour matters for clients of mine. In each case he has shown great insight into the issues, the laws, and the personalities involved and has leveraged that insight to assist the parties in achieving a resolution. I recommend him without reservation."
- "Mr. Sonnenberg is a fantastic mediator. The parties mutually agreed to Mr. Sonnenberg because both sides believed he had the background and professional experience necessary to handle a difficult single plaintiff employment matter. Mr. Sonnenberg immediately recognized the need to establish a personal connection with my client (the employee) at the outset of the mediation. Mr. Sonnenberg's active listening paid large dividends throughout the day. Mr. Sonnenberg assisted the parties in reaching a fair resolution within a one-day session. My client walked away from the mediation feeling she was listened to, the process was beneficial and the resolution was fair. I will be using Mr. Sonnenberg for future meditations."
- "In working with Steve I found him to be persistent and conscientious. He was knowledgeable regarding the subject matter and pushed the parties hard to reach a resolution. Throughout the mediation he seemed to connect with my clients and to gain credibility throughout the entire process, which I believe was what allowed us to resolve the case."
- "Reiterated thanks for your stellar work in getting this done. We are extremely pleased to have this distraction behind us, albeit one is never completely happy to agree to pay out on a claim which many thought we could successfully defend. Two weeks from now, as the memories recede from view in the rear view mirror, we will all be confident that this was the right and sensible decision and that our clients can return to the pursuit of positive and productive matters rather than concentrating on how best to defend against these questionable yet complex claims. You are cool as a cucumber and the consummate professional. I have already passed on to our colleagues why they should all have you at the head of their lists for mediated matters in the future."
- "Steve worked with our office tirelessly to resolve a complicated employment matter. He was able to convince both sides to come to an agreement which was acceptable to the parties. Will gladly use Steve again in the future."
- "Our firm represented the claimant in a high profile and sensitive employment claim. Mr. Sonnenberg came to the session very well prepared and devoted substantial time to achieving a settlement. In the process he was able to bridge a very wide gap of positions, perceptions and expectations, and he did so with both deft and sensitivity. The goal of bringing your client to a mediation is to settle the case, but also to have your client come away with an overall positive feeling for both the process and the result. That was very true here (and I would be surprised if the other side had any different feeling). Thus, we would commend Steve for anyone with such a claim."
- "Stephen Sonnenberg is an intelligent and respectful mediator. He was able to settle wage and hour law cases that I thought were not possible. I would highly recommend him to anyone looking for a mediator."
- "As a law firm representing plaintiffs in discrimination and personal injury cases, we have used Steve for mediations and found him to have a polite and professional demeanor towards everyone. Steve’s background as a social worker is incredibly helpful in communicating with all the parties in the case. His main focus is to get matters resolved. Steve encourages parties to continue negotiating. He does not let either side give up. Even though he has years of experience representing management and employers, he is 100% neutral when it comes to mediating a case. He has a fantastic grasp of the legal and factual issues."
- "Steve mediated a dispute where I represented an employee in the most disturbing sexual harassment case that I have encountered in my 40-year career. Despite challenges from the employer, the acknowledged harasser and the insurance carrier, Steve persisted. After three separate meetings and numerous conference calls over several weeks, Steve guided the parties to a successful resolution which I doubted could be achieved."
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