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Lawyer Limelight: Tammy Marzigliano

Clients who seek Tammy Marzigliano‘s help are never treated as abstract legal matters – situations that can be addressed on the justice system’s own good time.

What makes the Outten & Golden partner such a standout is that she shares her clients’ urgency. If a client calls her on a Sunday, she calls back the same day.

“When you’re dealing with individual employees, this is their life,” she explains of her practice representing individuals whose employment is threatened. “If you’re talking about a whistleblower who spoke up and is now on a performance-improvement plan or being terminated, someone who has four kids and a mortgage, what are they going to do? This is the end of the world for them. You’re dealing with real people with real problems, and there’s a responsibility that comes with that.”

The child of working-class parents from Long Island, N.Y., Marzigliano has held a job since age 15, when she started busing tables at a restaurant. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Hofstra University and her law degree, magna cum laude, from Quinnipiac University School of Law.

Lawdragon: So tell me how you came to join Outten & Golden. What drew you into plaintiffs’ employment work?

Tammy Marzigliano: I joined the firm in 2004 – 16 years ago. I have always favored the underdog and see employees in a weaker position of power than their employers. I dedicated my professional career to helping employees balance the scales of justice.

LD: Not long after you graduated from law school in 2001. What did you do between graduation and joining Outten?

TM: My entire career has been on the plaintiff side practicing employment law. Right out of law school, I worked for Gary Phelan at Klebanoff & Phelan in Connecticut. That firm no longer exists. However, when Gary Phelan decided to join Outten & Golden LLP, he called me up and I interviewed at the firm. I joined Outten & Golden around the same time as Gary – 2004 – and have been here ever since.

When I joined, it was a very different firm than it is now…mostly because we were very small. Our summer outings used to be in one of the partner’s backyard. We all used to drive up to this beautiful house in Connecticut, and we would have a pool party, and we’d all just hang out and chat. Now, you get one of those emails where the person’s picture pops up, and you’re like, “Who is that person?”

You lose the intimacy, but there’s an upside: You meet and work with amazing and brilliant lawyers throughout the country. I have and continue to learn from my partners.

LD: Can you talk a little about your practice, what you like about it, and what the platform of Outten has brought to your practice?

TM: I work on the individual side of the firm. Although we all practice employment law, that’s the big umbrella, as there are many areas of law within the employment context. Most of us on the individual-side handle traditional employment matters, such as discrimination cases, sexual harassment cases, and contract disputes. I co-chair the firm’s Whistleblower and Retaliation Practice Group with Wayne Outten and also co-chair our Financial Services Practice Group with Laurence Moy.

What I’m known for here is the Whistleblower practice, which we developed years ago, but really took off in 2010 when Dodd-Frank passed. Prior to that, we handled retaliation cases under Title VII and other federal, state, and city laws. We also handled retaliation claims under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act; but prior to the passage of Dodd-Frank, SOX didn’t have the teeth it now has. As we know, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, there was a strong sentiment that more robust protection was needed to encourage others to speak out against wrongdoing. The passage of Dodd-Frank and the strengthening of other whistleblower protections has opened the door for people to speak out. 

LD: It’s such an important area of the law.

TM: It really is. We’re talking about publicly traded companies, in some instances, that are committing fraud against shareholders…let’s just be honest. Then you’ve got these brave men and women who raise their hands and say, “this isn’t OK.” We now have more laws to protect them. I think it’s so important to get that message out there to people. I spend a lot of time writing and speaking on these issues because they are so important. Many of these safeguards weren’t available to employees until fairly recently, which allowed many scandals to go unchecked. We still have a way to go as far as the law is concerned, but we have made progress.

LD: Right. Which is probably why a lot of the abuse flourished.

TM: Exactly. That’s how we got to where we were. And my clients are very important to me. A big part of my job, obviously, is practicing law, but there’s a real psychological component to this. You’re dealing with people in real time. There’s a responsibility that comes with that, and that’s something that sometimes differentiates the individual side of our firm from the class-action side, because the way we work is very different. I’m “on” all the time. We are talking about people’s livelihoods. Many people have never dealt with lawyers before and have no idea how to handle the situation that they are in. Often, my clients are anxious, scared, and infuriated about the injustice being perpetrated. There’s simply no “downtime” in my practice.

Everyone who works with me understands…the associates, the paralegals, and my secretary…that these are people in a crisis. Some of them don’t know where to go or what to do. Their job is in jeopardy, but they are still committed to doing “the right thing.” They want to say something, but they’re too afraid sometimes. There are so many different variables. I’ve had several clients during my career who have wound up in a mental hospital or have sought mental health treatment because of the situation they found themselves in. Think about how much time we spend at work – often 10 hours a day. It becomes our life. It defines us. It is where our friends are. It is a big part of our lives. Then, you find yourself in a situation where your company is committing fraud, or worse, asking you to participate in conduct that you believe is illegal. What do you do? You are overwhelmed with emotions and often people grapple with their own morals and values, as they weigh them against their responsibilities to their family and their ability to put food on the table if they lose their job because they spoke out. It is a difficult position to be in. We help people find their voice, navigate the morass of their employment situation, and seek justice for the wrongdoing. I think what we’re doing makes a real difference.

I keep a book in my office filled with notes, letters, and emails from clients that say things like, “You’ve changed my life,” “thank you – I couldn’t have gone through this without you.”   Whenever I have a bad day, I pull those out… and I’m like, “OK, this is why I do what I do.”

One other point that I think makes us unique – and this comes from Wayne Outten, founder of our firm – is that when people come in, initially, for a consultation, the question is not, “Do you have a case?” That’s the first thing that people always want to know, “Do I have a case?” Our question is, “Do you have a problem? Do you have a problem that you need assistance to navigate?”

LD: Tell me a bit about that part of the practice, which many of your clients particularly appreciate because they don’t necessarily want to go to court. They just want to protect their rights.

TM: Often, at least on the individual side, we never appear on behalf of the client. We never show our faces, but we help people with problem-solving. Maybe they don’t even have a legal claim, but they have a problem. There might not be a law to protect them, but there’s a way that we can help them navigate through the minefield of their employment situation. We do a lot of that. I think it really sets us apart.

A lot of firms proceed in a very traditional way and ask that threshold question: Is there a legal claim here? They take all the facts and every conceivable claim and throw it against the wall and proceed with whatever sticks. They litigate everything and let the chips fall as they may. We don’t do that. We are very methodological with our problem-solving, our approach. We sit down and analyze the information provided by our client and find out what their actual goals are. We are honest and transparent about their claims – or lack thereof. In some instances, we will say, “Listen, you may not have any legal claims, but you have a problem and you have leverage. You’ve been there 30 years, you have these relationships, let’s talk through that. Let’s talk about how you can find your way through this minefield.”

People really appreciate that. They walk away from a consultation understanding their rights, their leverage, and they have a plan of action to execute on. It’s a big part of what we do, but it’s not obvious. Every case is unique, and we look at each case through the lens of that person. Everybody’s needs are different. One person might say, “I want to leave my company.” One person might say, “I want to stay.” One person might say, “I just want to change my termination to a resignation.” Therefore, every case is handled differently, because each person’s needs, wants, and interests are totally different.

LD: What was your background growing up? You have so much passion for employees. Was there something that inspired that?

TM: I grew up in Long Island. My dad is a plumber; he’s self-employed. My mom didn’t work until we were in high school, and then she worked as an office manager.

A lot of my passion, I think, comes from my father. Although he was not an “educated man,” my father is one of the smartest people I know. Any time I would give a presentation at school, he would work with me. He would encourage me to dig deep within myself to find my voice. I realized at an early stage in life that I needed to believe in what I was doing, and my passion and advocacy followed. My compassion and empathy come from my mom. Growing up was interesting. Since I was a little kid, if we got in trouble for anything, we were given an opportunity to “plead our case.” You would sit at the dining room table and my mom would be there; my dad would sit at the head of the table and allow us to explain our case. He would hear us out. Then, after we made all of our arguments, he would confer with my mom, and give us a punishment. Sometimes mitigating factors were considered. As I got older (I was the oldest of three girls), I got to represent my sisters. One of my best cases was one with my little sister that I actually won. I got her “off” with no punishment – it was the best feeling.

LD: That’s such an awesome slice-of-life story.

TM: I think my advocacy started at a very young age. I worked at a restaurant starting at age 15. I started busing tables, then waitressing, then managing the restaurant. I learned so much from that experience. Being the manager in your 20s is hard; you don’t even know who you are yourself. But the owner, who I am still close with all these years later, really taught me about people and about management. A lot of times, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

I see that play out in my world when clients come to me. Some people seek out an attorney – not because they think they have legal claims, and sometimes they don’t – but because they are so angry about how they were treated. Instead of the employer being honest and saying, “Listen, this isn’t a good fit,” instead, the employer will build a “case” against the employee and start attacking their performance or micro-managing everything they do to “justify” terminating their employment. Such justification is unnecessary. Let’s be honest; let’s be transparent. That’s how I managed the restaurant.

At a very young age, I learned A, you always treat people the way you want to be treated, and B, you never ask anyone to do anything that you’re not willing to do yourself. Even now, if I have a late filing, I’m here. People are like, “Why are you still here?”

Because my team’s here, I’m here.