SFIA Member Spotlight — Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP

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Tim Freudenberger, Founder of Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP, discusses his journey in the law industry, as well as his affiliation with the sports and fitness industry. His expertise allows him to help SFIA member organizations with manufacturing, retail, sales, professional sports or collegiate sports in any employment-related issues or general employment counseling on their day-to-day operations.

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Tim Freudenberger, Founder

When was Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP (CDF) founded?

Freudenberger: Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP (CDF) was founded in October of 1994.

What sparked the firm’s inception?

Freudenberger: I, along with my original founding partners, had a vision for a law practice that served clients statewide in employment law defense and to offer our clients the depth of experience and the skills of big law firms but with ingenuity. Quicker decisions, more creative pricing, increased flexibility with staffing and case management, a greater emphasis on educating and advising clients, and a collaborative practice were all part of our broad vision for the firm.

From a start-up group of five attorneys and five staff, CDF followed a pattern of controlled growth that reflected our clients’ needs and the state’s expanding economy. By 2000, CDF counseled employers from offices in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. In 2011, partner and seasoned trial attorney Dave Carothers became a named partner.

Today, CDF is home to close to 50 attorneys and an equal number of staff, many of whom have been serving CDF clients for more than a decade, and some for more than two. Together, we represent regional, national and global employers with workforces throughout the state, and we are one of the few statewide firms exclusively servicing the needs of employers in California.

Since you are one of the founders of your law firm, what did you do prior to Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP?

Freudenberger: Prior to founding CDF, I started as a lawyer in 1988 in a large international firm called Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker. I practiced employment law and was well trained by some excellent lawyers at that firm. I started in the Costa Mesa office, which is also in Orange County, stayed there for about 4 years, then I left that firm to join a couple of partners of Paul Hastings who had spun off the firm to start their own practice in April of 1992. At that time, that firm only had an office in Irvine, CA. I stayed there for about two and a half years until October of 1994, when I joined with others to be a founding partner at my present firm.

How big is your firm?

Freudenberger: We started with 5 or 6 attorneys, and now we have close to 50 strategically located throughout California.

Where is the firm located? Any global offices?

Freudenberger: We have five offices in California in the major metropolitan areas including San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. We do not have any global offices.

What is your specific role within the firm?

Freudenberger: My role, on the management side of things, is a member of CDF’s governing body, the Executive Committee (“EC”). The EC is made up of six partners and the primary purpose is to monitor the firm’s economic performance and to provide the overall long-range planning policy and direction. The EC also makes certain that systems are established and identifies individuals that are responsible for all the areas of the firm’s management. The EC oversees the overall operations of the firm, including key decisions relating to administration, finance, recruiting, technology, and diversity and inclusion.

On the legal side, my primary role is really two-fold, one is mentoring, training and developing junior associates at our firm, and the other is practice-related. I am the Chair of our firm’s Class Action Litigation Defense Practice Group.

In employment law practice, we advise and represent clients in many different areas, but the practice epitomizes mainly two areas. One is defending employers that get sued for employment-related claims on an individual basis for alleged claims of wrongful termination, employment discrimination, wage and hour violations, retaliation claims, and sexual harassment claims. The other major part of our firm’s practice is class action defense, where employees bring claims on behalf of an alleged class of other employees suing the employer for the same alleged violation, mostly relating to wage and hour violations. Wage and hour violations refer to overtime, meal and rest break violations, off the clock violations, and compensation plan violations. We also defend many employment discrimination allegations, such as age discrimination in hiring, or race discrimination in hiring or promotion.

What inspired you to become a lawyer?

Freudenberger: It started in high school when I found that I enjoyed making arguments. I became infamous for arguing with the teachers. In those arguments, I discovered that I was usually right. (My high school teachers didn’t necessarily agree with that.) We had very memorable and high-level, amicable debates, which I enjoyed. I found an appreciation for making a case, making a position, and backing it up with research and facts.

In law school, I developed an interest in employment-related disputes which gave me a platform to argue an employer’s case, including all of the complex legal issues that arise out of the employer/employee relationship. I was offered a summer position at an AmLaw 200 Law Firm, Paul Hastings while in law school, a firm that has a stellar national reputation for employment law defense. I joined the firm after graduating from Hastings School of Law. So, I was really thrilled to get that position as a summer associate, and when I was at that firm I really enjoyed it.

I also enjoyed the people I worked with and the type of cases I was staffed on. The cases and how you defended them were very different back in the late 80’s. While many of those claims still exist now, the practice has changed. For example, when I first started practicing in the late 80’s, almost all of the claims were single plaintiff claims. One person would have a dispute, either a current or former employee, with his/her employer and bring the claim (i.e., invasion of privacy, wrongful termination, breach of contract, or race discrimination, etc.) on an individualized basis. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, employees and their attorneys started bringing claims on a class basis. So the practice really started moving from just defending your client employer on a single plaintiff claim to a much more sophisticated, higher risk, higher exposure type of case, involving a potential class and all the issues that are involved in that.

I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to argue many cases at the trial court level, but also at the court of appeals. And fairly recently, I argued a case before the California Supreme Court, where my client prevailed in a unanimous decision. It is always nice to win, but it’s really nice to win in a unanimous decision, and it’s really nice to win that way in California, where the judiciary and the legislature is very employee-friendly. There is a lot of difficult employment-related and wage and hour laws for employers to navigate around in California, and it’s difficult to prevail if you’re on the employer’s side in many cases. Especially in employment cases and wage and hour cases in the California Courts of Appeal and the California Supreme Court, so that was a fantastic experience that I am very proud of.

So, the inspiration for me was formulated back in high school around the skill of arguing, a skill which I’ve utilized on a daily basis as a lawyer ever since. It’s a big part of what I do. A lot of it’s done in a written brief; you write your briefs and the other side writes their brief, and then you go to court and you argue your case with the judge.

Which industries do you commonly work with?

Freudenberger: We represent small to large companies that have workforces in California. There are a few main industries I have or I am currently representing: The restaurant industry, retail industry, banking industry, sports and recreation industry, and another is the insurance industry. One of my clients is the Automobile Club of Southern California, which in addition to the roadside assistance part of their business, which is very well known and successful, the auto club is a very large insurer — Not just auto insurance but home and life insurance, as well.

In the retail industry, Apple is one of my clients. I also have some clients in the sports and fitness industry, including Angels Baseball LP, Equinox Fitness Clubs, LA Fitness International, LLC, Primo Fitness, Esports Arena, Speed Ventures, Scuba Mania, JHF LLS (dba UFC Gym), the Sport and Social Industry Association, Fitness 19 CA, Vavi Sports, as well as many golf resorts. Representing sports and recreation companies has been a good experience, because I’ve always been very active in sports and have been a huge sports fan — I coached my son in his youth sports for about 10 years, and am still active in sports (although it’s getting harder and harder but I still try.)

I used to play a lot of basketball and flag football. Now it’s more golf, but staying active is very important to me. In fact, both of my kids and my wife are also very active and very much into sporting activities. Sports have been a focal point in our family and the shared interest has brought our family closer together. As a family, we all participate together in outings and activities built around sports, both as participants and spectators. We enjoy hiking, biking, and swimming together and attending professional sporting events. We live in Orange County and the two primary professional sports teams are both in Anaheim, the baseball team is the Los Angeles Angels and the hockey team is the Anaheim Ducks. We have season tickets to both teams and attend many games.

Which types of cases do you enjoy working on the most?

Freudenberger: I like the larger more complex cases. The cases with more sophisticated and more challenging issues. I enjoy that part of it — the strategic part of building a defense, making arguments, and building the different pieces of evidence we need and presenting it to a judge. Maybe it’s motions to compel arbitrations to try to move a case out of the court system, which is exactly the thing we do a lot of.

Another part of defending class cases that I enjoy is moving to defeat class certification, because as I’m sure the readers know, a judge has to certify a case as a class action for it to go to trial as a class. However, if a judge denies certification, and there is no class, it’s either the one plaintiff who brought the case or perhaps 1, 2 or 3 plaintiffs who brought the case. The case would only be about them, if class certification is denied. So that’s a very critical stage in the types of cases that we work on and defend, and it’s always a challenge to build our evidence around the arguments necessary to persuade the judge that a class is not appropriate and it should be denied so that the case proceeds on an individualized basis, which changes the dynamic for our client, in terms of risk assessment and risk exposure.

How is your business related to the sports and fitness industry?

Freudenberger: Our business is related in a couple of ways, first that we have clients in the sports fitness industry as mentioned above and second, I am a big sports guy. I would love to help out any SFIA member organization, whether it be manufacturing, retail, sales, professional sports, or collegiate sports in any employment-related issues or general employment counseling on their day-to-day operations. That’s what I’ve been doing my entire career for clients in all different industries, including the sports and fitness industry.

Where do you see the firm in the next 5 years?

Freudenberger: I think we will experience continued growth. I would say we would be, in the next 5 years, a firm that has 60 or more lawyers. We have discussed, at the EC level, branching out to potentially be more regional — maybe an office in the Phoenix area in Arizona, maybe in Nevada in the Las Vegas area. That’s a possibility. Overall, I think we will be a bigger firm with a larger client base, with a focus on assisting companies with employment and labor issues — certainly in California, and also in the Western region of the U.S.

In closing:

Freudenberger: I look forward to becoming active in SFIA’s Legal Task Force and helping maintain SFIA’s commitment to foster participation in sports, fitness and an active lifestyle by supporting its members’ businesses with employment law advice and counseling to ensure compliance so business members can focus on what they do best “taking the shot!”

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SFIA is the leading global trade association in the sports & fitness industry. SFIA is the #1 source for sport & fitness research. More info at www.sfia.org.

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