WomenWhistleblowers.com recently spent time with Rachel Geman, a partner at the whistleblower law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, and contributor to our website. We learned about Rachel’s love for New York streets (see photos of her in the Soho neighborhood where she works), what she likes to cook (or not), her favorite films about injustice, why she thinks Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a rock star, and what advice she’d give to would-be whistleblowers.
What are your favorite streets in New York and why?
Aside from streets with highly personal meaning, I love the Mews — the lower Manhattan streets that have the character of old New York, until you bump into someone on a cell phone. Also, the hidden and not-so-hidden pleasures and history of almost any large street. In New York City we think in blocks but take my street – 10th street – writ large. On the east side is Tompkins Square Park, opened in 1834, once shorthand for urban decay and now lovely. On the west side, where I live, Emma Lazarus lived one block away. Could be where she wrote “Give me your tired, your poor…” from “The New Colossus,” the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
What is your favorite cuisine? Do you cook? What food do you prepare the best?
I have a sweet tooth: fruit with meat (think North African and Latin American dishes), dessert with coffee, dessert with dessert. My husband is a great cook. I follow simple recipes with uninspiring results. I’d rather bake a cake.
What are you reading right now?
“Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America,” by Alissa Quart (reality); “The Last Policeman” trilogy, by Ben Winters (escapism); and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (kids).
What is a good whistleblower movie?
With notable exceptions, like “Silkwood,” there are not enough movies about women whistleblowers! I liked “Class Action,” which was based on the Ford Pinto lawsuits over that car’s fuel tank design. The fictional car company’s attorney, Maggie Ward, faces a typical whistleblower challenge when she realizes her side is hiding evidence.
What are some movies you like about law and injustice?
I like films that look at how powerful people disavow responsibility for injustice. “Howard’s End ” did a tremendous job with this. A lot of science fiction and science fiction art depicts how easily we accept injustices large and small as part of the fabric of our lives. “Never Let Me Go ” comes to mind, assuming the film captured the essence of the book.
Films about property disputes often make compelling stories about ethics and entitlement. To paraphrase Pierre Joseph-Proudhon, “all property is theft on some level!” Think “Jean de Florette”. Or “Body Heat” — who doesn’t love a steamy thriller where arcane property law (the Rule Against Perpetuities) is a critical part of the plot?
What TV shows with female leads do you like?
“Handmaid’s Tale” for some light fun (joke). “Orphan Black.” “The Americans.” I never seem to make time to watch comedy, but I like Samantha Bee and Michelle Wolf.
Talk a little bit about your heritage.
As is true for many or most of the people read this article, my family made tremendous sacrifices to come to this country. We’re Jewish, and my grandmother fled persecution from Russia. My husband’s father and his family fled the Nazis when my father-in-law was very young. Parents had to separate from children and siblings from siblings. Thankfully they were reunited, but it reminds of the trauma of family separation going on now.
Another part of my heritage that is consistent with earlier generations is being a progressive and working for change. I’m eagerly awaiting November!
Who is a female leader whom you most admire?
Right now, I’m in awe of the many women running for office to get our country back on track. A few I know personally. They’re putting everything out there – they aren’t people born into well-born circumstances (read: super rich) with the means to run without the constant slog of fundraising and getting real people (read: not rich, not corporations) to support them. I’m optimistic that most, if not all, will not only be future legislators but future leaders.
What are your thoughts about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg?
I was in the Supreme Court on Election Day 2016. At one point during the arguments there was a long stretch where really the only questioners were the three female justices. It was thrilling.
You asked about RBG. I love her rock star status, and especially that it’s completely un-ironic. Her writing is sharp and pointed, and devoid of easy snark.
How do you decompress from a stressful day at the office/court?
The gods will curse me for enthusing about this fact, but I live close enough to my office to walk home from work. So that’s a good one. I also have various nerdy and/or lawyerly pleasures, like word games and reading mystery novels. And I like crosswords. I wrote employment law crosswords when I was editing a lawyer publication, and sometimes I write crosswords for kids. Even my older kid got in on the game, writing one with “bathroom words.” Also, on more than one occasion I’ve relaxed by jogging to a coffee shop.
Everything in moderation.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing?
In college, I toyed with being a scientist and took some biology and related subjects, but it wasn’t a fit. I recently found a questionnaire from high school that asked what I wanted to be, and I answered, “psychological historian or lawyer.” I have no idea what a psychological historian is and had no clue then either, but clearly I had an inkling about my future profession.
Who’s had the most significant influence on you?
Professionally, the senior women partners at Lieff Cabraser, all of whom practice what they preach. Also, family in very personal ways.
Describe your style as a lawyer.
How do you get ready for doing lawyerly things like arguing in court or examining witnesses?
Depends. Unlike, say, my doctor friends who can listen to music while gearing up to operate, we lawyers sit in court, mostly silent, and wait for the judge. We’re happy to have something to do along the lines of handing out business cards to the courtroom deputy, drinking water, or confirming our phones are turned off for the thousandth time. And, of course, staring at our notes.
Last year, I walked into a tough and delicate court conference where relations with the other side had broken down dramatically. Instead of doing my usual water/phone/notes routine, I did nothing but think “nice” thoughts, and it was helpful. But I wouldn’t recommend doing that before an expert deposition about statistics.
What got you interested in employment law?
Employment law is an excellent way to pursue issues of economic justice. Before I went to law school, I worked for the progressive Grassroots Policy Project. Another influence was the International Labor Rights Fund, , where I worked after my first year of law school.
How have Supreme Court decisions impacted class action and whistleblower lawsuits recently?
During the last decade, I’ve watched with concern the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on class actions. The Court’s 2011 majority opinion in AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion was a significant body blow, chipping—or chopping–away access to the courts in a way that has only gotten worse.
Take the more recent Supreme Court opinion in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis. Banning collective procedures in favor of compelled individual arbitration may not sound like a big deal but it’s literally everything. Things are more mixed on the whistleblower front. The Supreme Court has issued some opinions that are employee-friendly on retaliation. On the False Claim Act itself, there have been a couple of significant decisions over the last few years, like the Escobar case, but nothing equivalent to the impact of the arbitration in the class action world.
Finally, what advice do you have for would-be whistleblowers?
For anyone thinking about filing a discrimination or harassment claim, or a whistleblower lawsuit, here are some tips:
• Discrimination and/or harassment claim
• If you are an employee, and you feel you are being discriminated against or harassed, the first thing to remember is it’s not your fault, and it’s essential for you to take care of yourself. Going to an experienced attorney who specializes in those areas for a case review is critical. Lawyers themselves have experienced the same issues, and it’s the first step they take.
• There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to these types of cases. The answer you’ll often get to questions is “it depends.” That’s because whether you must tell HR, or notify the company, or collect evidence, depends on the law. Regarding sexual harassment, under federal law, you typically need to inform the company of the harassment under most circumstances. Under some state laws, which vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, you do not.
• It’s important not to destroy/ignore/withhold documents or information that pertain to your claims, even if you think it makes you look bad. For example, you once admired and respected the same boss who turned out to be awful; you didn’t speak up when an offensive email or remark was made, or you deflected when confronted with mistreatment. In those instances, you need an attorney’s perspective, and rest assured no case is one hundred percent clear because no human is a cartoon character.
• Other tips:
• Don’t use work email to correspond with lawyers or trusted friends about your experiences.
• Don’t use social media to air grievances.
• Don’t take documents that you are not entitled to have out of the workplace or make recordings without talking to a lawyer first (it’s unlawful in many circumstances).
• Don’t sit too long on a potential claim because there are time limits.
It’s also helpful to know the anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies in your workplace.
• Whistleblower lawsuit
• In a typical scenario, a whistleblower will file a lawsuit under the False Claims Act, citing a specific false claim or false statement made against or affecting the federal government. So, if you have non-public information about a company cheating the federal government out of money, such as by submitting fraudulent invoices for payment or by not paying the government money that they owe, you may have a whistleblower case that the Justice Department will explore. Additionally, many states provide whistleblower rewards for people who report fraud against a state agency.
Note: If you think you have a whistleblower case,
please call Rachel at 1-888-321-1510.
In the 19th century, the city was full of mews—rows of stables with accompanying carriage houses when the preferred method of transportation was the horse-drawn carriage.
In the 1970s, the Ford Pinto became infamous for bursting into flames if its gas tank was ruptured in a collision. The lawsuits brought by injured people and their survivors uncovered how the company rushed the Pinto through production and onto the market.
A film about a businessman’s hypocrisy, and response to his late wife’s bequest of an estate to a woman who became his second wife, based on the novel by E.M. Forster.
A film about a school of cloned children raised to donate organs, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.
The film centers on two local farmers plotting to trick a newcomer out of his newly inherited property and is based on a novel by Marcel Pagnol.
A nonprofit organization that advocates for the working poor around the world
Five conservative justices, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act, a 1925 law that pre-dated class actions, preempted state laws that, in essence, prohibited contracts from banning class actions.
The ruling provides that the National Labor Relations Act does not afford a substantive right to a collective or class action. Mandatory, non-class arbitration clauses cannot be challenged on the basis of conflicting with Labor Law.