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Overview

Elena Baca is the Global Chair of the Paul Hastings Employment Law Department and leads a diverse group of more than 80 lawyers in 10 offices around the world. Ms. Baca is a first-chair litigator who regularly navigates high-stakes litigation, conducts sensitive investigations and advises C-suite executives and corporate boards on compliance and regulatory issues involving human capital. In her role as practice Chair, Paul Hastings’ Employment Department has anticipated and led the response to evolving employment issues, including employee and shareholder activism, AI, COVID, DEI and CSR. Ms. Baca is recognized as a leading trial lawyer by many notable publications.

She has been consistently ranked by Chambers USA and The Legal 500 as one of the top employment defense lawyers in California. Chambers USA has noted that her “litigation track record and outstanding trial victories stand out in the legal marketplace, due to both her sheer volume of wins and the ways in which these decisions are helping to shape future employment and labor law, particularly in California.” In Chambers, Ms. Baca has been described as “second to none,” a “phenomenal lawyer and creative thinker,” “one of the preeminent labor and employment lawyers in Los Angeles,” and “one of the best attorneys I have ever worked with.”

Ms. Baca also has been selected continuously since 2006 as one of the Best Lawyers in America in employment law. She has repeatedly been named as one of California’s “Top Women Lawyers” and as one of California’s “Top Labor and Employment Attorneys” by the Los Angeles Daily Journal. She has been selected as one of Lawdragon’s Top 500 Leading Corporate Employment Lawyers. The American Lawyer also recognized her in its “Top 45 Under 45” list.

An experienced trial lawyer, Ms. Baca has established an impressive record of defense verdicts and arbitration wins representing a wide variety of corporate clients. Her adversarial practice is primarily focused on employment-related issues, such as employee mobility, discrimination, wage and hour, and whistleblower issues. She is considered a “go-to” employment lawyer for many large employers with high-profile disputes involving high-level executives and contentious high-stakes litigation (including class action claims). She is regularly called upon to assist with crisis litigation, with its unique demands and need for an experienced, sophisticated and broad strategic focus. Ms. Baca is frequently called upon to turn around cases that have been mishandled by other law firms and take them to trial. Her clients include talent agencies, entertainment companies, web-based services, online social media and networking platforms, video game developers and publishers, financial institutions, medical technology and research companies, law firms, public utilities, major manufacturers, and leading consumer brands.

Recognitions

  • American Institute of Legal Counsel, 10 Best Employment & Labor Attorneys – California
  • Benchmark Employment Litigator of the Year (2022)
  • Benchmark Litigation & Employment Star (2019)
  • Best Lawyers in America, Employment Law (listed since 2006)and Litigation – Labor and Employment (2022)
  • Chambers USA, Labor and Employment (individually listed since 2009)
  • Lawdragon, Top 500 Leading Corporate Employment Lawyers (listed in 2021, 2022, 2023)
  • Los Angeles Business Journal, Top 100 Lawyers (listed in 2023, 2024)
  • Los Angeles Daily Journal, California’s Top 75 Women Litigators and Top Labor and Employment Attorneys (listed since 2010)
  • Martindale-Hubble Peer Review Rated A/V®
  • Super Lawyers list, including list of Top 50 Female Lawyers in Southern California (listed since 2005)
  • The Daily Journal, Top 100 Lawyers in California (2020)
  • The Daily Journal, Top Labor and Employment Lawyers (individually listed since 2010)
  • The Daily Journal, Top Women Lawyers in California (listed since 2014)
  • The Legal 500, Leading Lawyer for Labor & Employment - Workplace and Employment Counseling (2021)
  • The Legal 500, Labor & Employment Disputes (Including Collective Actions): Defense (2021)
  • The Legal 500, Labor and Employment Litigation (listed since 2009)

Education

Ms. Baca received her B.S. degree in Justice Studies with a minor in General Business from Arizona State University. She received her J.D. degree from the University of Notre Dame School of Law, where she was vice president of the Hispanic American Law Students Association, an officer of the Sports and Entertainment Association, and a research assistant and editor for two publications, The Attorney General's Lawyer and The Complex Civil Litigation Manual and Textbook.

Representations

  • Activision Blizzard – When Activision Blizzard and various subsidiaries faced overlapping government investigations and later, overlapping government litigation, they turned to Ms. Baca and her teams. These government lawsuits sought to litigate an array of gender discrimination claims (pay, promotion, constructive termination), harassment, and related retaliation claims, spanning more than a decade. In these proceedings, Ms. Baca and her teams tackled novel and complicated regulatory, administrative, and jurisdictional questions.

    All of this was further complicated when our clients were caught in the cross-hairs of a regulatory turf war. Specifically, in a maneuver designed to undercut federal authority, a state agency cut short its investigation and filed a sensational complaint that included false allegations of a “frat boy” environment, rampant, systemic harassment, and other related misconduct. Ms. Baca and her teams fought with our clients to defend against an avalanche of unfair and inaccurate media coverage, as well as the array of regulatory and legal proceedings triggered by the filing.

    Our team coordinated, supported, and led an array of internal and external teams defending against enforcement and derivative lawsuits, an SEC ESG Taskforce investigation, shareholder proposals, investor demands, and retaliatory threats of enforcement action against the Board of Directors. Turning the tables through a series of public record requests, and later, public records litigation, Ms. Baca and our team ultimately uncovered ethics violations, destruction of government records, and violations of government policies.

    After two years of litigation, as part of the settlement the state agency agreed to dismiss its claim of systemic harassment, dismiss its harassment claim, and entered into a favorable settlement. This settlement amounted to less than five percent of the inflated, baseless damages claimed by the state agency – and, even more remarkable, included recitals from the government acknowledging a series of facts and public information (including that no independent investigations substantiated the state agency’s claims) and confirming there was no basis to the state agency’s allegation of systemic unlawful employment practices.
  • Dollar Tree Stores – They say, “No one tries high-profile certified class actions.” We do. Led by Ms. Baca, we represented Dollar Tree at trial in a certified class action and the subsequent appeal. The certified class consisted of more than 5,000 store associates who sought millions of dollars in penalties based on novel legal theories under the California Labor Code. After months of briefing and limiting the issues, the case proceeded to trial. The jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Dollar Tree in under an hour. When the class representative appealed the result, Ms. Baca and her team successfully defended their trial win. The matter was affirmed on appeal.

  • Dollar Tree Distribution – Represented Dollar Tree’s California distribution centers after the court certified seven different classes. This matter involved questions of what is compensable work time, the enforceability of arbitration agreements and notice issues, and factual disputes related to clock-in, clock-out, and rest and meal break practices. Ms. Baca’s team filed a successful motion to compel arbitration that excluded over two-thirds of the certified class (from 3,500+ employees to fewer than 800 - nearly an 80% reduction). Ms. Baca and the team were named “Legal Lions” by Law360.

  • UPS – UPS faced 54 individual cases (with more threatened) after Paul Hastings successfully decertified class action alleging misclassification of its package car drivers. Plaintiffs’ counsel turned to the media, attempting to increase the pressure. During an eight-year battle with a potential liability in the nine-figure range, Ms. Baca managed the defense of these individual cases, coordinating across complex jurisdictions and trying the bellwether cases. The final result: 16 wins, 38 walk-aways, and secured defense attorney fees awards in five of the cases.

  • PG&E Representing Pacific Gas and Electric Company in a series of related whistleblower lawsuits and associated labor arbitrations. Providing electricity to over 70,000 square miles of California, PG&E is a critical infrastructure provider. As a public utility, it has been held liable for property damage, and occasionally, physical injury, caused by wildfires. Five PG&E employees, fired for dishonesty and failing to timely perform maintenance, were let go. They filed grievances with their union and filed lawsuits claiming the real motivation for their termination was that they had “blown the whistle” on certain safety issues.

    The first, bellwether trial was filed in Napa Superior Court, a community impacted by wildfires in 2017. The jury trial (Hearn v. PG&E) phase of the litigation concluded with Ms. Baca, in the first chair position, securing a complete victory on the retaliation/whistleblower claims. An “add on” defamation claim resulted in an inconsistent verdict and is now on appeal. The second lawsuit (Frediani et al v. PG&E), filed in San Francisco, involves the remaining four employees and is now underway.
  • Financial Institution – After facing years of regulatory and media scrutiny, a major American multinational financial institution’s then-CEO resigned. Our client, pursuant to the terms of the equity awards, elected to terminate various grants. The former CEO elected to file suit, challenging the bank’s decision and asserting an array of other claims. Ms. Baca leads a team navigating this defense, which requires a multi-disciplinary focus and media strategy.

  • Social Media Company – Represent a top social media company against multiple former employees making whistleblower allegations, framed by significant regulatory, Congressional and media scrutiny.

  • American Spacecraft Manufacturing Company – Represented a spacecraft manufacturing company against a Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) whistleblower claim filed with the U.S. Department of Labor alleging termination for reporting Generally Accepted Accounting Principles violations. Following our investigation, the Secretary of Labor found no reasonable cause to believe that our client violated SOX and complainant did not establish his burden of showing he was retaliated against in violation of SOX. The complaint was dismissed in its entirety.

  • Gilead Sciences – Represented Gilead Sciences and its subsidiary, Kite Pharma, Inc., against claims of sex discrimination and retaliation by a former Kite employee. Ms. Baca led her team in taking an aggressive approach to defend against the claims from the outset. The parties conducted the seven-day hearing, including extensive witness examination and oral argument. The arbitrator issued a Final Award denying all claims asserted by claimant.

  • Flexera Software – Represented Flexera Software when a former employee initiated a putative class action claiming millions of dollars in damages. Through a motion to compel arbitration, the class claims were eliminated. Next, through forensics it was determined the plaintiff had destroyed evidence, stolen company information, and fraudulently altered a key document. A cross-complaint was filed. In the middle of the arbitration hearing, during the plaintiff’s cross-examination, the plaintiff abandoned his claims.

  • Staffing Networks – Represented Staffing Networks against a putative Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”) action seeking many millions of dollars in penalties for alleged wage statement violations. When an opportunity was presented by a recent PAGA amendment, the alleged violation was cured, thereby mooting the claims. Plaintiff’s counsel argued the claims, which were filed before the amendment, could continue. Through a number of procedural turns, in two different counties, the case was finally won when summary judgment was entered in Staffing Networks’ favor.

  • American Apparel – Represented American Apparel in its defense against legal proceedings filed or instigated by its former CEO, Dov Charney. Recently, when Charney sued American Apparel and its Board Chair for defamation, Ms. Baca immediately filed a successful motion to dismiss and secured an award against Charney for more than $100,000 in attorneys’ fees. Ms. Baca also represented American Apparel in its defense against Charney’s wrongful termination arbitration and successfully defended the Company against a series of Anti-SLAPP motions, including through appeal.

  • Lockheed Martin – Represented Lockheed Martin in a disability discrimination and wrongful termination matter. Ms. Baca secured defense verdicts – twice. After the jury returned a defense verdict in less than 20 minutes, plaintiffs appealed. The higher court affirmed, but for the claims the trial court had dismissed without sending them to the jury, which went back to the jury. Plaintiff retained new counsel and the case was tried anew with changed theories from opposing counsel. Again, the jury returned a defense verdict within minutes.

  • AIG – Represented an insurer facing a novel misclassification claim, related to hearing officers. Rather than await the plaintiff’s move, Ms. Baca elected the novel strategy of bringing a preemptive motion to deny class certification. The trial court granted the motion. Ms. Baca then immediately moved for summary judgment and successfully defended the ruling on appeal.

  • Global Talent Agency  Secured a defense award after a multi-week arbitration on behalf of a global talent agency that faced high-profile harassment, discrimination, and retaliation claims asserted against it and its executives.

Involvement

  • Executive Advisory Board Member, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation
  • Co-Chair, Lawyers Committee, National Center for State Courts
  • Fellow, The Trial Lawyer Honorary Society
  • Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America
  • Member, Diversity Law Institute
  • Member, Trial Law Institute
  • Member, American Board of Trial Advocates
  • Ex-officio Lawyer Representative for the United States District Court, Central District of California
  • Former Member of the Magistrate Judge Merit Selection Panel for the United States District Court, Central District of California
  • Former Adjunct Professor, Pepperdine Law School, Civil Procedure and Complex Civil Litigation
  • Former Board Member, Children Affected by AIDS Foundation
  • Former Board Member, Hispanic American Bar Foundation
  • Former Board Member, Human Rights Campaign
  • Former Board Member, National Center for State Courts

Practice Areas

Energy

Litigation

Employment Litigation

Workplace Retaliation and Whistleblower Defense

Employment Counseling and Preventive Advice

Life Sciences and Healthcare

Employment Law

ESG & Sustainable Finance


Languages

Spanish

Englisch


Admissions

California Bar


Education

Notre Dame Law School, J.D. 1992

Arizona State University, B.S. 1988


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