At the Law Offices of Scot Bernstein, we represent individuals and groups of people who have been financially abused or otherwise “ripped off” by careless or dishonest companies. This is divided into two primary areas of practice:
► class actions representing employees and consumers
► securities arbitration / investment disputes
Class actions for overtime pay, wage-and-hour violations, and other consumer rip-offs. We represent employees who have not been paid the full wages, including overtime pay and vacation pay, that their employers owe them. We also represent consumers who have paid their hard-earned money for products that are defective or do not deliver as promised. Workers and consumers have a right to what the law says they are owed. Unfortunately, however, the amount owed to any one person, while substantial, might not be large enough to support the legal expense of pursuing an individual claim. In those situations, a class action on behalf of everyone in the same situation may provide the only real hope for receiving compensation for the harm done – and the only way to prevent the corporate wrongdoer from keeping the fruits of its misconduct.
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Securities arbitrations and investment disputes. We represent investors and savers who have been taken advantage of by stockbrokers, financial planners, investment advisers, stock brokerage firms and the securities industry generally. Often, the cases are brought against the very largest firms on Wall Street.
Usually, brokerage firms’ agreements with their customers require all disputes to be arbitrated. Thus, we handle arbitrations at the NASD, the NYSE, AAA (American Arbitration Association), JAMS and PCX (the Pacific Exchange, formerly known as the Pacific Stock Exchange).
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These areas of practice are not as different as they might appear at first glance. Both involve representing the underdog against a company that has not played by the rules. Both involve the application of laws designed to prevent dishonesty in the marketplace for goods and services, to correct the gross inequality of bargaining power between lone individuals and the giant companies with which they must deal, and to rein in companies that otherwise might profit from conduct that is dishonest or out-and-out illegal.
Some businesses are shockingly dishonest. The stock analyst scandals on Wall Street are a prime example. Large brokerage firms’ stock analysts deliberately lied to investors – the firms' own customers -- to prop up the stock prices of the firms’ investment banking clients. The $1.4 billion dollars that those firms paid to settle the enforcement action brought against them by the New York attorney general is inconsequential to them, a slap on the wrist. It’s a tiny fraction of the losses suffered by huge numbers of hard-working Americans – good people who lost their life savings because they trusted big-name firms that invited trust but did not deserve it. If those investors want compensation for the harm they have suffered, they will have to bring their own claims.
Want another example of deliberate theft, this one directed at employees? Here it is, straight out of the headlines: “time shaving.” Time-shaving is the deliberate altering of employees’ time records to reduce the amount the employees are paid. It is theft, pure and simple. And it has become easier to accomplish than it used to be because many businesses keep time records in electronic rather than paper form. Altering them may take only a few keystrokes.
Time shaving is stealing. Employers that rob their employees this way deserve to be criminally prosecuted, just as an employee who stole a comparable sum from his or her employer would be. But whether or not that happens, one thing is clear: employees have a legal right to be paid for all of the hours they have worked. In many cases, unfortunately, they get that pay only by filing lawsuits.
This is not to say that all businesses are dishonest. Many play by the rules. Sometimes, though, they still make mistakes. They might sell a defective product that needs expensive repairs or doesn’t perform as promised. Or they may make an honest mistake in calculating an employee’s pay.
But that mistake, even if the business made it innocently, costs somebody money. The right party to pay for the mistake is the business that made it. Businesses that make mistakes shouldn’t expect their customers and employees to pay for them. Unfortunately, though, they often have that expectation. When that happens, people have two choices: they can take it lying down; or they can file a claim to recover what the law says they are owed – just as the business would do to them if they owed the business money.
We constantly hear about the supposed “litigation explosion,” “lawsuit abuse,” and our purportedly “litigious society.” These are myths. Lawsuit statistics bear that out. But think about this: when an employer that has engaged in time-shaving gets caught and still refuses to pay its employees the full amount they have earned, and the employees have to file a class action to collect their pay for the hours they have worked, who is being litigious? Who is the real cause of that lawsuit? The employees who simply want their pay? Or the employer who broke the law and refuses to give back the ill-gotten gain?
Litigation of this kind is not just essential for the protection of investors, consumers and employees. It is essential as well to level the playing field so that the businesses that do play by the rules are not disadvantaged as a result. If some businesses comply with the law and others do not, the lawbreakers have an unfair competitive advantage over honest companies.
Often, that lawbreaking will persist until a private lawsuit puts an end to it. Usually, that lawsuit is filed by the consumer, investor or employee who is directly affected. But sometimes a competing business will sue to stop the lawbreaking and to preserve fair, law-abiding competition in the marketplace. Either way, a self-governing people have a right to have their laws enforced rather than ignored – and private litigation often is the only enforcement those laws ever receive.