50 Best Companies to Watch 2020

Sanford Heisler Sharp: Leading the Charge for Social Justice and Human Rights


Sanford Heisler Sharp is a public interest civil rights law firm with offices in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, San Diego, Nashville and Baltimore. Founded in 2004, the firm currently employs 94 individuals – 56% of them women and 70%, members of diverse groups. Its attorneys have recovered more than one billion dollars for individuals and the U.S. government and achieved unparalleled success in promoting meaningful changes for employees within corporate America, the legal industry, higher education and other economic sectors.

A Law Firm Is Committed To Making a Difference

Sanford Heisler Sharp is committed to protecting the rights of employees in discrimination, wage and hour, qui tam, and other civil rights matters. The firm’s nearly five dozen attorneys are experienced in complex class action litigation, having successfully represented thousands of employees in discrimination lawsuits, as well as plaintiffs seeking relief from employers’ retirement fund abuses.

The firm’s lawyers are renowned for advancing individuals’ and groups’ civil rights by crafting innovative legal strategies in federal and state courts from coast to coast. They move the needle in high-profile, precedent-setting litigation not only by winning significant compensation for their clients, but also through achieving real change in companies and institutions to create a more equitable environment and enlightened management policies. The firm also promotes social and economic change by increasing media awareness and stimulating public dialogue about human and civil rights violations by employers, companies and retirement fund management.

Prevailing in Settlements That Protect Employees’ Rights


Sanford Heisler Sharp has recently achieved significant settlements for plaintiffs in complex lawsuits, including Pan v. Qualcomm Incorporated, which resulted in a $19.5 million class settlement in a gender discrimination and pay equity matter which was settled prior to even filing the case. In addition to monetary compensation for 3,300 female employees, the settlement provided programmatic relief by mandating new policies to address discrimination at Qualcomm.


Sanford Heisler Sharp likewise achieved a victory in Ha v. Google on behalf of 800 contract recruiters and sources when a California court granted final approval of a class settlement, ordering a total payment of $5.5 million, plus the employer’s share of payroll taxes.

Similarly, in Chen v. Western Digital Corporation, the law firm negotiated a $7.75 million settlement for a class of female employees to resolve their claims of unequal pay and discrimination. In addition, the agreement included programmatic relief that improved workplace conditions for females companywide.


The firm shifted its focus to successfully tackle age discrimination in Manlove v. Volkswagen AG, where plaintiffs alleged the German automaker planned to phase out older workers. Sanford Heisler Sharp turned VW’s mandatory arbitration agreement around and used the company’s own carve out provisions to help the plaintiffs pursue class and collective claims for injunctive relief, earning a heralded settlement with VW that includes safeguards against future age discrimination.


In a case that gained worldwide media attention, the firm reached a $14 million settlement for a class of female student-employees at Dartmouth College, which ended the students’ Title IX lawsuit. This closely watched outcome included $1 million dedicated to establishing a diversity recruitment fund and other substantial institutional reforms to prevent future abuses of and discrimination against females at the Ivy League institution.


Sanford Heisler Sharp has also backed workers in successful ERISA matters. The firm has targeted fiduciaries’ failure to remove investment options from their retirement plans when these options have achieved uniformly poor records of performance. One of the most prominent of these recent wins came in a suit against Eaton Vance, which had limited employees’ investment choices almost entirely to the company’s own underperforming mutual funds. Sanford Heisler Sharp attorneys settled the matter quickly for $3.45 million.

Sanford Heisler Sharp’s attorneys are also pursuing claims against General Electric and Transamerica for offering underperforming proprietary funds to its employees. Both cases are proceeding as certified class actions. The firm is likewise suing Home Depot and Walgreen’s for claims that imprudent investments subjected their employees to years of retirement fund underperformance.

Significant Trial Successes

Another case gaining international media attention was a high-profile trial victory in California on behalf of 22 young women suing the website Girls Do (GDP), for defrauding them and coercing them into pornography. After a lengthy trial, the judge ruled GDP and its affiliates committed intentional misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, false promises, unfair and deceptive business practices, and fraudulent transfer, awarding the women $12.78 million in damages.

The firm also notched a precedent-setting victory for Beth Burns, former San Diego State University (SDSU) women’s head basketball coach. After a jury trial award of $3.3 million, the firm reached the second largest Title IX settlement in U.S. history for the popular SDSU coach. The win was hailed as a milestone for gender equality in women’s athletics and a “warning shot” across the bows of other universities engaged in similar illegal Title IX practices. On the heels of the Burns’ victory, the firm achieved another dramatic face-off in academia, representing Professor Enrichetta Ravina, a former junior faculty member at Columbia University in New York, who alleged the Ivy League institution retaliated against her by firing her after she accused her academic mentor – a tenured professor at Columbia – of sexual harassment. Following a trial in federal court in New York, widely publicized in the national media, a jury held Columbia and the tenured professor liable for unlawful retaliation, awarding Dr. Ravina damages totaling $1.25 million.

A Continuing Commitment to Protecting Workers and Preserving Their Rights


Building on the firm’s 16 years of success in courtrooms and settlement negotiations, Sanford Heisler Sharp’s attorneys are now engaged in numerous public interest and social justice matters that protect and promote the rights of diverse individuals and classes of individuals. For example, the firm is representing the family of Qin Chen, an employee of Facebook who was involved in a tragic suicide on the company’s campus. Lawyers are conducting a thorough investigation of the tragic incident – including examining Facebook’s hostile work environment and certain discriminatory employment practices, and potential abuses of H-1B work visas in Silicon Valley, at Facebook and similar large tech companies.

Jones Day

Sanford Heisler Sharp is also continuing its successful representation of female lawyers in the nation’s largest law firms, where its ongoing efforts in Tolton et al. v. Jones Day have touched another raw nerve in BigLaw. Female lawyers there challenge the firm’s “black box” compensation policy, lack of transparency in pay decisions, and policy of discouraging associates from challenging discrimination. The firm gives male associates preferential treatment while female associates are paid less, promoted less often, and openly demeaned.


The firm is likewise continuing representation of plaintiffs in William and Klayman v. Morrison & Foerster, which alleges the BigLaw powerhouse discriminated and retaliated against female attorneys based on gender, pregnancy and maternity status. The case originated as a class action with seven Jane Does as plaintiffs. Five of these women have settled and two are continuing to pursue their individual claims against MoFo.


Sanford Heisler Sharp’s efforts on behalf of whistleblowers is another legal arena in which the firm is consistently successful in supporting plaintiffs. Its attorneys are presently representing a former senior VP at JUUL in a whistleblower retaliation and wrongful termination claim in which the former C-suite executive alleges unlawful termination for complaining about the company’s business practices that constituted legal, regulatory, and ethical violations of the law. This important matter is now in arbitration.


The firm also represents a former Contract Director for Navistar Defense who is suing the company for violating the Federal False Claims Act. The whistleblower alleges Navistar defrauded the U.S. government by overcharging it some $1.3 billion for parts and components of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. The U.S. government has recently joined the case.


Oracle also remains in Sanford Heisler Sharp’s sights after the firm achieved an appellate victory in the Ninth Circuit affirming a lower court decision in Johnson v. Oracle America that compelled the tech giant to arbitrate a dispute brought by a class of employees who alleged the company failed to pay them some $150 million after it made retroactive changes to sales commission formulas. Oracle refused to participate in the class action until the firm won the appellate victory, but with this decision the matter moved into arbitration.


Sanford Heisler Sharp is also playing an instrumental role in helping government entities across the nation address the high cost of the opioid epidemic by suing the companies responsible. To date, the firm has filed some 60 lawsuits for cities and counties in Virginia, as well as suits in Texas, Vermont and California.

Most firms would shy away from challenging the most powerful interests in society. Sanford Heisler Sharp has taken on the largest corporations in the world and has succeeded. Protecting the rights of workers is especially critical in the age of Covid-19 and against the backdrop of racial tensions prevalent in the country today.

The Firm's Chairman

A 1995 graduate of Stanford Law School, Chairman David Sanford has been lead counsel in more than 50 employment class actions and numerous qui tam cases. He has also represented more than 100 lawyers in gender, pay and promotion claims against their law firms and companies. He tried an employment gender discrimination class action case that culminated in a $253 million verdict, the largest jury verdict of its kind in U.S. history. David has been honored by virtually every legal media outlet in the U.S. He was inducted in the National Law Journal’s Elite Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame; was an American Lawyer 2018 Attorney of the Year finalist; and was the 2018 Benchmark Litigation Employment Attorney of the Year.