If Douglas Wigdor looks familiar to you, there’s a good reason: He is frequently in the news, including on television, for his high-profile cases representing a wide range of employees in litigation. Wigdor used his experience as an assistant district attorney and a defense-side litigator to develop one of the nation’s leading employee-side practices in the nation, with verdicts and settlements totaling in the many millions of dollars.
Name: Douglas Wigdor
Firm: Wigdor LLP
Position: Founding partner
Practice Areas: Employment litigation
Location: New York
Law School: Catholic University School of Law
Master’s Degree: Oxford University (England)
Undergraduate: Washington University
Lawdragon: Can you give us a general overview of your practice?
Douglas Wigdor: We are primarily an employment litigation firm and we handle all types of employment disputes pertaining to all kinds of discrimination, harassment, wage and hour, overtime, minimum wage, breach of contract, bonus claims and any other disputes in the employment context.
We also handle numerous high-profile cases involving sexual assaults perpetrated by famous individuals or employees of major companies.
LD: How did you first become interested in this type of practice? In this area, can you talk about your switch from a management-side practice?
DW: I first became involved in employment litigation during a two-year clerkship with a federal court judge where many cases involved employment claims. Furthermore, as a former criminal prosecutor, I found many cases involved “he-said, she-said” disputes and given the fact that the cases were very factual, I realized that good lawyering would be required in order to prevail.
While the firm is still involved in some management side work, the main reason I switched is that I find it more rewarding to represent individuals and go up against companies, rather than represent them.
LD: What do you find satisfying about representing employees?
DW: When a violation of a person’s rights has occurred and they have nowhere else to turn, coming to their aid against an entity with unlimited resources is incredibly rewarding, as they would otherwise be unable to receive the help they need and deserve.
LD: What types of cases are keeping you busy these days? Are there trends you are seeing in your practice?
DW: I am definitely seeing an increase in the number of sexual assault cases, both in and out of the workplace. While those cases are keeping me busy, I am dealing with a lot of pregnancy and age-discrimination cases also. I have also recently represented a number of attorneys in their claims against their employers. The representation of a fellow attorney is the highest possible accolade and it is a testament to the quality of the representation that we provide. The disputes which involve attorneys include gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and contractual disputes.
LD: Can you describe a recent case you’ve handled?
DW: A case I have recently handled is the Uber case, which involved the sexual assault of our client in Delhi, India.
LD: What were the key challenges of that case for your client?
DW: There were a lot of jurisdictional issues as the assault occurred in India. Another major issue was whether Uber could be held responsible for the acts of drivers they believe are independent contractors and not employees.
LD: What do you think is the impact of this case?
DW: I certainly hope that as a result of the lawsuit, ridesharing companies will be more careful in their selection of drivers and will implement measures to ensure the safety of passengers.
LD: Do you think there will be something particularly memorable about the case or is there a lesson you drew from this case?
DW: In the Uber case, like the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case which involved the sexual assault of our client by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, we represented victims who really had nowhere else to turn. To be able to help these victims against people and companies is the reason one attends law school in the first place.
LD: What type of practice did you imagine yourself having while in law school?
DW: I just wanted to be a trial lawyer. I was unsure of the precise area of the law I would practice, but I always knew it would involve the courtroom setting.
LD: Do you have advice now for current law school students who are interested in your type of employee-side practice?
DW: My advice for law school students is to get as much advocacy experience as possible. I would also advise students to participate in as many externships as possible in order to get hands-on experience in this area.
LD: What are some of the challenges now in your current leadership role?
DW: In my current leadership role, not only do I oversee many cases of great significance but I am also running a company and it is the demands of balancing these two important aspects of my role which is the most challenging.
LD: What do you do try to “sell” about your firm to potential clients – how is it unique?
DW: I do not believe there is any other lawyer in the employment field that has a comparable record in terms of the successful outcomes of cases. This ultimately benefits our clients in terms of settlements as our adversaries are aware of our experience and that we are willing to litigate cases to trial or arbitration.
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities? Tell us what you find meaningful about your time serving them?
DW: I regularly speak at conferences and universities and I find these to be very educational. Perhaps of more significance, two attorneys from the firm and I will travel to Kenya to teach prosecutors how to better handle poaching cases in Kenya. This is a cause which I feel very strongly about, so much so that I am willing to invest significant resources to help.
LD: That’s very interesting. Can you talk about how you got involved in this work and how you go about providing that assistance?
DW: I got involved in Lawyers Without Borders when I was opposing counsel to a big firm lawyer in a contentious litigation. The lawyer told me she was off to Kenya to assist the anti-poaching efforts and we immediately found some common ground. After the case was over, I asked her more about it and eventually got into contact with LWOB. We are one of the first small firms to be involved and will assist in teaching police, prosecutors and judges about the importance of evidence preservation.