Originally published August 19, 2022 (here)
By Chris Villani
Labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan of Lichten and Liss-Riordan PC is touting her civil litigation chops as she looks to capture the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts attorney general in the Sept. 6 primary.
Known for leading class action suits against major companies like Uber Inc., Lyft Inc., Amazon Inc. and others, Liss-Riordan has won the backing of more than a 50 unions in her bid to replace outgoing Attorney General Maura Healey.
A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, Liss-Riordan co-founded her current firm in 2009 and since then the practice has focused on issues like wage theft, discrimination matters and consumer protection issues. She sat down with Law360 in her Boston office to discuss how her experience would translate to the job of being the state’s “top cop” and what changes and new initiatives she’d bring to the office.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You have frequently touted your experience as a civil litigator. How do you feel that experience would translate to the job of being attorney general?
The AG’s office is an important position where we need an experienced, seasoned litigator who knows how to lead teams of lawyers and knows how to use the court system to make a difference in people’s lives, which is what I have spent my career doing.
I have effectively been a private AG for more than two decades, enforcing our wage laws to protect workers and expanding that into enforcing our consumer protection laws to protect consumers and enforcing our environmental laws to fight climate change and protect our planet.
The work I have done in the workers’ rights arena translates directly. I have represented thousands of clients, and I see this as an opportunity to expand my client base to the millions of residents of Massachusetts.
Maura Healey has also been very active in wage theft and workers’ rights issues during her time in office. What would you do to build upon what she is already doing?
On wage enforcement, I can say that our office, with my moderate-sized law firm here, has brought in millions of dollars a year in stolen wages for workers. Over the course of my career, I have recovered more than half a billion dollars in stolen wages from workers.
The AG’s office, they put out a report every year of how much they recovered, and last year I think they recovered something like $700,000. I think there is a lot more that can be done there.
One initiative I have been talking about that I would plan to implement as AG. I know it takes a long time to have these cases move forward and when people have their wages stolen, these are people who are living paycheck to paycheck. They need their money now. They can’t afford to wait weeks or months or even years for these cases to be investigated and come to some resolution.
I want to set up a fund that can be used to pay people back who have had their wages stolen right away while the AG’s office will then go after that bad-actor employer in court and collect penalties to fund this. It’s the way our unemployment system works, it’s the way our workers’ comp system works, why not wage theft?
How do you think you would work with [Maura Healey] if she is the next governor and you are the next attorney general?
I am excited to build on the important work she has been doing as attorney general. There is a lot of unfinished business. Taking on the pharmaceutical industry for bringing us the opioid crisis, taking on ExxonMobil for lying to us for decades about climate change. Those are the kinds of high-stakes impact litigation I have been doing throughout my career.
There are a lot more bad actors out there that need to be held accountable. Purdue Pharma is just one that a resolution has been reached with. There are many more of these pharmaceutical companies that need to be held accountable. Similarly, with Exxon, there are a lot of other companies who we know lied to us about climate change and profited for years off of spewing emissions into our environment.
Are there other specific environmental actions you would take as AG?
The big thing is the legislature puts the laws on the books and the legislature has set forth this next-generation roadmap which sets some important goals that we need to meet to fight climate change. But I know for my career as a civil rights lawyer and workers’ rights lawyer that laws don’t enforce themselves.
I plan to work aggressively with the environmental protection division and be a leading AG across the country in fighting climate change.
Another plan I have is to set up a green bank where we would take penalties recovered from litigation against these major polluters and use it to help fund clean energy projects and environmental justice projects.
What do you see as the biggest differences between the AG’s office currently and what it would be like with you at the helm?
Being a civil rights lawyer as long as I have been, I have often been on the other side of the “v” from the state and I have gone up against the AG’s office plenty of times and I have beaten them.
I think there are cases where the state or its agencies are engaged in behavior that is just not defensible. As AG, I would try to resolve cases like that. And, if they cannot be resolved, I would appoint a special attorney general to play the defense role, and I could take the side of the plaintiffs. There have been cases in my career where I think that should have happened.
What should the Massachusetts bar know about you?
I am hopeful that the bar in Massachusetts, many of them are familiar with my work and my history. I have worked with lawyers on both sides of the bar in the cases I have litigated. I have negotiated, I have reached settlements.
I know that one part of practicing law is going into court and winning judgments for your clients. Another big part of being a lawyer is sitting down with the other side and working out resolutions, which I have been doing for 23 years.