When Erin Williams joined Ogletree Deakins, she was excited to be part of a firm with a wide presence and a narrow focus. Ogletree has offices across Europe and North America but only practices labor and employment law. Williams has been drawn to the specialty since she graduated from law school.
“Whatever the actual fact pattern is it involves real people,” Williams said. “You’ve got the person feeling aggrieved, you’ve got a manager who made this decision. It’s very human.”
Williams earned her undergraduate degree from Washington University, but ventured to the East Coast for law school, where she earned her degree from Boston University. After graduation, she worked at a small Chicago firm before accepting the job at Ogletree Deakins and returning to her native St. Louis.
Williams was attracted to the law due to her interest in problem solving and using carefully crafted arguments to draw others to her side.
“You can be on the losing side and that’s unfortunate, but that feeling of winning is a great high,” Williams said. “I like coming up with an argument. I like coming up with theory on something and then convincing others to believe me.”
In 2017, Williams guided a case that set legal precedents in Johnson v. Lou Fusz. The case involved an employee of the St. Louis area car dealership who had a son with a disability.
After losing her job, she sued for discrimination and unpaid overtime. Williams successfully sought the case’s dismissal in state court, based on the fact that ERISA claims should be heard in federal court.
Both the circuit court and the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District agreed with her.
The decision reiterated the federal standards for ERISA preemption and applied them to the state courts, Williams said.
Williams also recognized that her team could argue that the overtime in question was not enough to be actionable under the law.
“The company didn’t have knowledge she was working these overtime hours or overtime minutes really,” Williams said. “I think it definitely set a new legal precedent on the overtime claim. No Missouri court that we’re aware of had previously found for an employer on the de minimis rule. The amount of overtime Mrs. Johnson allegedly worked was so minimal as to not be actionable.”
Arguing appellate cases allows Williams to draw on her penchant for arguing, and is exciting for its opportunity to help create laws and standards.
“When you’re in an appellate situation, whether it’s state or federal court, you’re really looking at what the legal standard is and what it should be,” Williams said. “That’s really appealing to me. The ability to be a good arguer comes in, and you get to help shape the law, which is really cool.”