Suzanne Lehman Johnson  »  Of Counsel
Suzi is Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and rated AV Preeminent by Martindell-Hubbell. With 20 years of legal experience that combines trial attorney and corporate roles, Suzi is an accomplished advocate who utilizes her broad base of legal experience to successfully litigate complex disputes in federal court, state court, and arbitration. As a former general counsel of a publicly-traded company, Suzi understands the full range of issues that businesses confront, including harassment, discrimination, wage and hour, executive compensation, reduction in force, and whistleblower issues. Having participated in more than 30 arbitrations as lead counsel and numerous trials and mediations, Suzi’s experience provides clients with the knowledge they need to evaluate cases in the context of the realities of the business world and to optimize opportunities for cost-effective case management and success at trial.

Representative Experience

Employment Litigation

  • More than 20 years of experience in defending employers against state and federal lawsuits alleging race discrimination, age discrimination, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, disability discrimination and accommodation, national origin discrimination, discrimination based on veteran status or under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) claims, unfair labor practices, unfair competition, breach of contract, whistleblower, ERISA benefits litigation, malicious prosecution, defamation (libel and slander), business disparagement, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and retaliatory discharge.
  • Prevailed in employment litigation resulting in favorable jury verdicts for employers.
  • Successfully represented individual executives and managers in lawsuits seeking individual liability, including presentation of individual executives and managers for deposition and trial.
  • Won numerous summary judgments and successfully defended several such judgments in the appellate courts, including the defense of a summary judgment through denial of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court.
  • Successfully briefed appeal of trial court’s adverse jury trial verdict in a sexual harassment case resulting in reversal of the jury verdict in the federal appellate court and denial of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court.
  • Obtained dismissal of former employees’ claims based on Railway Labor Act (RLA) preemption in district court.
  • Won arbitrations involving employment discrimination claims and breach of contract claims, resulting in awards in favor of the employer affirming the discharge decision, and, in one case, also awarding monetary damages to the former employer in a contractual dispute involving a former partner’s consulting agreement.
  • Successfully defended internal dispute resolution (internal appeal) programs and mandatory arbitration programs.
  • Served as local counsel in Houston, Harris County, Texas in state and federal court.
  • Asserted commercial litigation claims when appropriate in order to recoup funds due to the company in federal and state court.

Labor Union Arbitrations, Negotiation, and Litigation

  • Prevailed in numerous labor arbitration proceedings (primarily under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), but including some labor arbitrations with collective bargaining agreements under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)).
  • Arbitrated labor issues regarding contract interpretation, discharge, breach of contract, minor and major disputes under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), discrimination/disparate treatment, proportionality, seniority, nepotism, supervisor step-down rights, drug testing, clock-in and clock-out, uniforms, vacation, fighting, sleeping on the job, back-pay, contract implementation, payroll, contracting out work, and benefits.
  • Defended against injunction and temporary restraining order proceedings in federal court involving major disputes under the Railway Labor Act (RLA).
  • Appealed arbitration ruling regarding employee who was not qualified to perform essential job functions required of a safety sensitive employee; appealed arbitration ruling where arbitrator exceeded scope of authority under the contract.
  • Negotiated with union on behalf of management and drafted provisions for collective bargaining agreement, side letters, contract modifications, reduction in force, severance, extension, snap-back, wage freeze, and Section 1113 of the Bankruptcy Code.
  • Presented union awareness materials to supervisors and management of non-union work groups and trained regarding rights and duties during a union organizing campaign under the Railway Labor Act (RLA) and National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
  • Drafted policy regarding solicitation and distribution.
  • Maintained a positive relationship and open communication with incumbent unions and union representatives.
  • Worked cooperatively with union (and non-union) work groups to promote diversity, improve employee morale, and enhance safety and productivity.

Representation Before Government Agencies

  • Investigated and drafted numerous EEOC charge responses and obtained dismissals with a finding of no cause to believe discrimination occurred.
  • Investigated and drafted responses to OSHA claims and engaged in on-site OSHA investigations with favorable results demonstrating compliance by the employer.
  • Investigated and drafted responses to AIR 21 claims and engaged in on-site investigations with favorable results demonstrating compliance by the employer.
  • Investigated and drafted responses to NLRB unfair labor practices claims and engaged in on-site investigations with favorable results demonstrating no unfair practices by the employer.
  • Investigated and drafted responses to wage and hour claims and engaged in telephone hearings resulting in favorable findings on behalf of the employer.
  • Investigated and drafted responses to Department of Labor inquiries and audits with favorable results.
  • Investigated and drafted responses to Internal Revenue Service inquiries on payroll practices (independent contractors, employees, 1099s, and W-2s) with favorable results.
  • Prepared and presented witnesses (including executive witnesses, manager witnesses, and employee witnesses) on multiple occasions in-person and by telephone in administrative governmental agency investigations.
  • Resolved charges involving class action allegations at the agency and charge level, avoiding expensive litigation.

Noncompetition and Trade Secrets

  • Pursued lawsuit against former executive of a technology company for unfair competition and violation of non-compete provisions  through temporary restraining order (TRO) temporary injunction (TI) hearings.
  • Successfully responded to request for TRO and TI, ultimately obtaining summary judgment on behalf of individual executive and new energy industry employer accused of unfair competition, breach of non-compete, and breach of contract.
  • Defended company accused of theft of trade secrets through trial and appeal.
  • Drafted and defended confidentiality and non-compete agreements in an efficient manner.
  • Counseled employers on drafting and enforceability issues of non-compete agreements in banking industry, healthcare industry, transportation industry, and technology industry.

Executive Compensation, Board Compensation, and Corporate Board Experience

  • General Counsel, ExpressJet Airlines (NYSE: XJT):  Managed all legal affairs and coordinated board meetings for large publicly-traded regional airline with only one other in-house lawyer.
  • Managed compensation for independent directors and non-independent directors.
  • Implemented Treasury Stock Purchase Plan for independent directors and non-independent directors.
  • Worked with Board in drafting and management of executive employment agreements, including provisions for change of control, stock options, restricted stock, non-competition, severance, and reporting.
  • Worked closely with Board Chairs of Compensation and Nominating and Governance Committees to address issues.
  • Drafted Board minutes for main board and all committee meetings.
  • Worked closely with Board to manage succession planning and actual succession of C-suite officers (Chief Executive Officer and Vice Presidents), including announcing and addressing the resignation of the CEO, hiring the Interim CEO, recruiting and hiring the new CEO, and severing various Vice Presidents in connection with a restructuring of the business.
  • Managed compensation and severance in corporate restructuring and prior to sale/merger of the company.
  • Drafted proxy and other public filings related to compensation of officers, executives, and Board.
  • Addressed issues in threatened proxy fight.
  • Obtained shareholder approval for reelection of all independent outside directors, including obtaining a changed voting recommendation from Risk Metrics on an independent outside director in 2010.

Counseling, Training, and Investigation

  • Designed and implemented successful training program for management on multi-state wage and hour and labor law compliance in connection with major corporate expansion into multiple states outside of Texas, including California.*
  • Drafted documents in connection with successful outsourcing of FMLA compliance program.
  • Counseled clients on FMLA, disability accommodation, USERRA, small, women, and minority-owned business subcontracting program, OSHA compliance, FAA compliance, DOT compliance, drug testing, background checks, ERISA, unemployment compensation, insurance, benefits plan design, employee communications, EEO compliance, and multiple other employment issues.
  • Drafted severance plan, severance agreements, Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notices, and related materials associated with major reduction in force in 24 locations in various states, including California,* with no resulting litigation.
  • Reviewed harassment training for compliance with requirements under state and federal law.
  • Performed numerous corporate investigations regarding compliance issues, EEOC charges, OSHA charges, and other administrative governmental agency claims.
  • Coaching, preparation, and training of management and executives, including but not limited to legal compliance issues, agency investigations, trial, hearings, and depositions.
  • Drafting and revision of employee handbooks, training manuals, required postings, and other materials.

Professional Activities, Honors, and Memberships

Board Certified in Labor and Employment by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (1997)

Licensed to practice by the Texas State Bar in all courts in Texas (1992)

Admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Courts of Appeal for the Fifth and Sixth Circuits, and the United States District Courts for the Southern and Western Districts of Texas

Trained Mediator – Frank Evans Dispute Resolution Center (1992)

National Association of Corporate Directors; has served as an independent outside director on the following non-profit boards – St. Dominic Village (former Board Chair, and Chair – Compensation Committee), Weekley YMCA, and Jones Partners Advisory Board to Rice University Graduate School of Business.

American Bar Association, member of Committee on Executive Benefits and Compensation, member of Labor and Employment and Business Law Sections

Houston Bar Association, member of Labor and Employment Section

2010 Best Corporate Counsel Award for In-House Legal Department of 2 to 10 Lawyers - Houston Business Journal

2010 to present Southern District of Texas Magistrate Selection Committee

Consistent Election to Martindell-Hubbell’s Premier Edition of Preeminent Lawyers – AV Rated (consistently rated AV during career)

2011 Intensive Immersion Spanish Language Course, Segovia, Spain

Education

South Texas College of Law, J.D., 1992, magna cum laude, Order of Barristers; American Jurisprudence Award (top of class) in Torts I, Property I, Property II, Legal Research & Writing I, Marital Property, and Mediation; Law Review -- Note and Comment Editor;  John J. Worley Law Review Writing Award; Board of Advocates; Phi Delta Phi; Order of the Lytae; First place team, ATLA mock trial competition, Austin, TX (1991); Second Place Brief, John Marshall moot court competition (1991)

University of North Texas, M.A. 1988, teaching fellowship in English (writing).

Tarleton State University, B.S., summa cum laude.

*  Conferred with local counsel as required by applicable rules.

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