Eric Tate is a partner in MoFo’s San Francisco office and co-chair of the firm’s Employment + Labor Group. He represents technology and other companies in the biggest and most highly publicized trade secret and employee mobility cases across multiple industries. Eric also represents companies in whistleblower, wage and hour, and other employment litigation. In addition to his regular practice, he is also very involved in community endeavors. He founded a nonprofit community organization to address issues relating to persons of partial Asian descent called Hapa Issues Forum, Inc. and is serving on its board and on the board of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. Additionally, Eric is a member of the INROADS Alumni Association and the 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, Inc., and he mentors students in the Level Playing Field Institute’s IDEAL Scholars Program.
What was it that initially drew you to employment and labor law?
The people, the human element of the practice area. Work is one of the most important aspects of a person’s life. Whether it is through counseling employers on compliance with employment laws and employee relations issues pre-litigation, or litigating disputes with employees, at our core we are dealing with personnel issues to which everyone who has held a job can relate. Our fact patterns tend to be the most interesting as well. I have also been drawn to employment law because our issues span industries and our work often includes other disciplines, like the cross-section with intellectual property where my particular employment law practice has focused.
Do you have any examples of interesting work you’ve performed in the employment and labor space?
One example is work that we have done with companies that are trying to build autonomous vehicles. When I was growing up, self-driving cars and aircraft were viewed as science fiction, or something you might only see in cartoons, like the Jetsons. But we have had the opportunity to learn a lot about the autonomous vehicle industry through our work on certain trade secrets and employee mobility matters, which has been interesting. While the underlying facts can be unfortunate, I also tend to find workplace investigations to be interesting. We were recently brought in to investigate claims of sexual harassment and national origin discrimination in a company. It was interesting to actually talk to the parties and get a sense of how different witnesses viewed the same events or conversations, as well as how gender and cultural perspectives can impact the workplace.
Do you have any examples of how employment and labor is being used to promote diversity and inclusion, or suggestions on how it can do so in the future?
The workplace is basically a microcosm of a larger society. Most adults have jobs of some sort, at which they spend the majority of their waking hours. Therefore, what happens in the workplace can have a significant impact on what happens in our society, how people think and act towards one another. Training, affinity groups, and other initiatives are increasingly being used in the workplace to promote diversity and inclusion. Companies have gone from having potluck dinner to celebrate Black History Month, for instance, to developing educational programs with social scientists to help employees recognize and confront implicit bias. We recently assisted a client with a series of diversity and inclusion workshops for its Asia region employees, where the focus was on the social science aspects of implicit bias, and promoting inclusion in the workplace, with experiential exercises that we developed and led, and intentionally not the more standard employment law counseling and compliance focus.
How does the field of employment and labor intersect with, or improve upon, similar practice areas?
Every company regardless of industry has employees. All companies act through their employees. Therefore, the vast majority of legal issues at some point is going to involve an employee and employment law concerns. For instance, in most trade secrets misappropriation disputes, employment laws are implicated because normally an employee or former employee is alleged to have improperly taken or used his or her employer’s information. In advising on a dispute in that area, one will need to understand the rights and obligations of that individual as an employee, which are intertwined with the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, or whatever other statutory regime might be implicated specific to the intellectual property at issue. Another obvious example is mergers and acquisitions (M&A). M&A at its core is about buying and selling companies. But that means the employment of employees of those companies will be affected. There are statutory and other rights that employees have that may be implicated in an M&A transaction that require employment law expertise to properly address.
Do you have any advice for the next generation of aspiring diverse lawyers who might be interested in the field?
Employment and labor law is a field that is ever-evolving and continues to expand. For instance, pandemic advice and counseling is now a separate practice specialty where it did not exist 18 months ago. In general, I would say that it is an exciting area because we do deal with issues of diversity (race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, disability, etc.) and the foibles of human nature. But increasingly more of our work involves cutting-edge technology issues (e.g., biometrics). Whatever your interest, our Employment + Labor practice likely touches upon it, so come on in.
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