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Mary Ellen Simonson

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Mary Ellen Simonson has established a successful employment and education practice, as a counselor and litigation defense attorney. She has 33 years of experience in representing and advising a wide variety of public and private sector employers, in all aspects of employment relations, litigation, counseling, governance, Open Meetings and Public Records. Her practice ranges from advising public and private sector employers, including governing boards of educational institutions, on governance issues, high-stakes educational matters, implementing best practices, litigation avoidance strategies, day-to-day issues in the workplace, to advocacy in federal and state courts, administrative agencies, and before the EEOC, ACRD, DOL, and other public entities, and arbitrators. Mary Ellen routinely handles a wide variety of counseling, governance and litigation matters, including employee discipline and terminations; drafting and negotiating Chancellor and Superintendent employment contracts; whistleblower complaints; defending/enforcing confidentiality, non-solicitation and non-competition agreements; trade secret disputes; workforce reductions; Title VII discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment issues; ADA, ADEA, FMLA, WARN Act, and FLSA issues; internal investigations; executive employment agreements; severance agreements; wrongful termination; and advice to employers on compliance with federal, state and local employment and school laws. She represents education clients in Arizona and other clients across the United States, including serving as outside general employment counsel for a multimillion-dollar company, and represents a variety of industries including manufacturing, equipment rental, financial, mortgage, health care, and the arts. 

Mary Ellen has successfully briefed and argued appeals before the Ninth Circuit and Arizona Court of Appeals, and successfully briefed and argued before the Arizona Supreme Court an issue of statewide importance to all public employers. She also has substantial experience in school law, including representation of Arizona’s largest secondary schools and one of the nation’s largest community college districts. Mary Ellen routinely takes a proactive approach to counseling employers about ways to avoid costly litigation, manage employee performance, and make practical, sound human resource decisions to help avoid or minimize wrongful termination, discrimination, disability, and other avoidable claims.

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Education

  • J.D., Arizona State University - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, 1983
  • B.A., Arizona State University, 1971

Bar Admissions

  • Arizona, 1983

Court Admissions

  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, 1995
  • U.S. Supreme Court, 2004
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division, 2009, 2018
  • U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii, 2017
  • U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut, 2012
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, 2011
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, 2011
  • U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina, 2010
  • U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, 2009
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, 2009
  • U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, 2007, 2009
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, Division 1, 2008
  • U.S. District Court, District of Arizona, 1984
  • Arizona Supreme Court, 1984
  • Arizona Court of Appeals
  • Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri at Kansas City, 2017
  • Circuit Court of St. Louis County, 2017
  • Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama, 2011
  • Tarrant County, TX, 348th Judicial District, 2008
  • Hildalgo County, TX, 206th Judicial District, 2008
  • Galveston County, TX, 56th Judicial District, 2008
  • El Paso County Colorado, District Court, Division 19, 2007

Community

  • The College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, Fellow
  • Member, Board of Directors of the Employment Law Alliance, the world’s largest network of labor and employment lawyers, which has an Elite – Global-Wide ranking by USA Chambers. Through the ELA, our firm has access to top management-side labor and employment law attorneys in all 50 states and 120 countries.
  • American Bar Association Labor and Employment Law Section, Member
  • Arizona Women's Education and Employment (AWEE), former Board President and Board Member
  • A New Leaf, former Member of Board of Directors
  • Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference and Executive Committee, former Chair
  • First Phoenix Commission on Excellence in Education, formerly appointed by Phoenix Mayor to Co-Chair with President and Chief Executive Officer of Arizona Public Service Company
  • Herberger Theater and Social Venture Partners, formerly served on Boards of Directors
  • Governors Inaugural Committee, former Member
  • Arizona Centennial Commission, former General Counsel
  • Fellows of American Bar Foundation, Member
  • Arizona Women Lawyers Association, Member
  • Maricopa County Bar Association, Member
  • Federal Bar Association, Member

Representative Matters

  • Successfully represented healthcare executives in effort by former employer to enforce overbroad restrictive covenants. (2018)
  • Negotiated favorable resolution for national mortgage lender in lawsuit alleging breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional interference with business relationships and/or contract, unjust enrichment, violation of trade secrets act, unfair competition, conversion, aiding and abetting, and injunctive relief. (2017)
  • Represented one of nation’s fastest growing construction equipment rental companies in their national employment matters, including multiple litigation, administrative, settlement conferences/mediations, and counseling matters across the country, from 2011 until recent acquisition by competitor.
  • Represent Arizona’s largest, nationally prestigious art museum in all employment matters.
  • Won summary judgment in U.S. District Court on all claims by former female employee alleging retaliation, gender, and disability discrimination. (2016)
  • Negotiated nominal settlement for nationwide employer after filing strong motion for summary judgment on claim by former employee alleging termination in retaliation for seeking workers’ compensation. (2016)
  • Successful appeal on issue of statewide importance that clarified public records law for all public entities in Arizona, supported by multiple respected amici, including the state of Arizona; lead counsel in underlying state court trial. (2015)
  • Negotiated favorable resolution with National Labor Relations Board on behalf of employer where former employee claimed retaliatory termination for alleged whistleblower activity. (2015)
  • Led team in drafting customized confidentiality, non-solicitation and non-competition agreements for nationwide employer involving 41 state agreements for multiple levels of executive, director, and sales staff positions. (2014)
  • Led strategy and defense of large multistate employer’s decision to terminate employee after workplace accident and testing positive for marijuana who also had a medical marijuana card, which was among first such actions under relatively new Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. (2014)
  • Prevailed on special action appeal for one of Arizona’s largest school districts in which Arizona Court of Appeals reversed trial court and upheld Governing Board decision to terminate teacher who failed to properly supervise swim program where student drowned; led underlying administrative hearing and state court proceedings. (2014)
  • Led complex investigation for global public company involving allegations of misrepresentations and retaliation. (2014)
  • Lead counsel on more than 500 employment litigation and counseling matters nationwide for public company, over course of more than 15 years as the company’s outside employment general counsel, including defense of federal and state court lawsuits involving Title VII, ADEA, ADA, FMLA, and administrative matters such as EEOC charges and DOL matters.
  • Lead trial and appellate counsel for national hotel chain in obtaining summary judgment in state court on eight of ten claims, and later directed verdict at trial on remaining two claims in a $2 million dispute in which plaintiff (former employee) claimed employer (national hotel chain) was vicariously liable for off-premises conduct of former supervisor.
  • Lead trial and appellate counsel in the first case in the nation to uphold the constitutionality of a mandatory school uniform policy in a public school: Phoenix Elementary School District No. 1 v. Green, 180 Ariz. 476, 943 P.2d 836 (1997).
  • Lead trial and appellate counsel in case that clarified Arizona’s “notice of claim” statute in Arizona Supreme Court opinion successfully upholding client’s statutory interpretation: Deer Valley Unified School District No. 97 v. McDonald, 214 Ariz. 293, 152 P.3d 490 (2007).
  • Lead counsel for multiple federal and state court proceedings to seek or defend Temporary Restraining Orders and Preliminary Injunctions involving restrictive covenants.
  • Lead counsel in multiple administrative proceedings involving successful termination of public employees.
  • Settled for nuisance amount a $1 million lawsuit against Fortune 500 employer after limited depositions, persuasive settlement conference memorandum, and strategic participation in federal court settlement conference.
  • Obtained dismissal with prejudice in U.S. District Court of an $8 million commercial dispute against a major health care entity, following successful motions to dismiss and for summary judgment.
  • Successfully defended a Fortune 500 company on summary judgment motions in U.S. District Court involving breach of contract/warranties, affirmed on appeal to Ninth Circuit.
  • Successfully defended a major lending institution in a complex lender liability case which settled for a minor nuisance amount immediately after deposed plaintiff.

Honors & Recognitions

  • The Best Lawyers in America, 2014-2022
  • Southwest Super Lawyers, 2015-2016, 2018, 2020-2021
  • Chambers USA, Labor & Employment, 2013-2021
  • Benchmark Litigation, Labor & Employment Star - West, 2018-2021
  • Arizona’s Finest Lawyers
  • AZ Business Magazine, Arizona’s Top Lawyers
  • Who’s Who Legal Services, The International Who’s Who of Management Labour and Employment Lawyers, Listed, 2015-2016
  • Martindale-Hubbell, "AV/Preeminent Attorney" rating (25 years)
  • Judicial AV/Preeminent rating
  • Athena Award, “Businesswoman of the Year,” Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, 2005
  • Honoree in the Arizona State Bar, “100 Women and Minority Lawyers,” 2000
  • Who's Who Legal: Labor, Employment & Benefits 2021
    Employment Law Alliance , 03/12/2021

Clerkships

  • U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona

News

Presentations

  • Co-presenter, "Managing the Workplace in a Pandemic: Tips for Employers to Survive the Era of COVID-19," Tempe Chamber of Commerce Webinar, Aug. 25, 2020
  • Co-presenter, "What Human Resource Managers Need to Know About Restrictive Covenants (But Did Not Want to Pay a Lawyer to Ask!)," Arizona Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference), 2019
  • Co-presenter, "Managing the Unmanageable: Difficult, Toxic, and Gotta Go Employees," Association of Corporate Counsel, 2019
  • Co-presenter, "How to Conduct Legal, Effective, and Fair Internal Investigations," Society of Human Resources Management, 2017
  • Co-presenter, "How to Conduct Legal, Effective, and Fair Internal Investigations," Association of Corporate Counsel, 2017
  • Co-presenter, "Arizona Update and Multijurisdictional Issues Involving Restrictive Covenants," Association of Corporate Counsel, 2016
  • Moderator, "What’s Keeping You Up at Night?" Employment Law Alliance panel of General Counsel and other in-house counsel from global companies, 2016
  • Co-presenter, "Identifying and Addressing Hostile Work Environment and Discrimination Complaints," and "The Five W’s (and H) of Employee Performance Management," training for staff of nonprofit employer, 2016
  • Co-presenter, "Background Checks and the Fair Credit Reporting Act: Key Issues for North America Employers," Employment Law Alliance webinar, 2015
  • Co-presenter, "Avoiding the Weeds in Complying with Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act," Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM), 2014
  • Co-presenter, "Litigating Restrictive Covenants," 2013 Legal Education Boot Camp: All-Day CLE, 2013
  • Co-presenter, "Responding to EEOC Charges – Position Statements 101," Association of Corporate Counsel, 2012
  • Co-presenter, "Responding to the EEOC," and "Established and Emerging Trends in Employment Litigation," Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, 2012
  • Moderator, "Changes To the ADA And FMLA: What In-House Counsel And Human Resources Professionals Need To Know," Employment Law Alliance webinar for 1,200 Human Resources professionals nationwide, 2009
  • Co-presenter, "How the Supreme Court’s Latest Decisions Will Affect the Workplace," Conference for the Appellate Judges Education Institute, 2008
  • Presenter, "Notice of Claims Update," Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) Spring Conference, 2008
  • Panelist, Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference panel on federal issues.
  • Panelist, Arizona District Judicial Conference on federal rules and procedures.
  • Presentation to Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) on employment law updates.
  • Presenter, "Superintendent Compensation: ASBA’s Survey of Non-base Salary Benefits and Legal Considerations Involved," Arizona School Boards Association, 2006
  • Multiple in-house trainings, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, reductions in force and alternative decisions, and notices of claims.
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