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Attorneys of the Year: Susan Ellingstad

After working as one of three lead attorneys since 2005 in employment lawsuits over the classification of 20,000 FedEx drivers in 42 states, 2016 Minnesota Attorney of the Year Susan E. Ellingstad says it is gratifying to bring “real relief” to the drivers who were called contractors but treated as employees.

Some 40 lawsuits settled for more than $500 million in 2015 and 2016 after 11 years of litigation in federal and state trial and appellate courts across the country, nominators Richard A. Lockridge and Charles N. Nauen wrote.

Business expenses, including having to buy delivery trucks, were pushed onto drivers, Ellingstad says, and some had financial hardships and even faced bankruptcies over that.

“You feel good about doing the case every time you talk to a driver; and we got [them] some substantial amounts in settlements,” she says.

Ellingstad led a team that prosecuted the multidistrict litigation matter, reviewing millions of documents, taking and defending hundreds of depositions and arguing motions in state and federal courts throughout the country, Nauen and Lockridge stated.

The remaining settlements, totaling $240 million, were completed over four weeks in early 2016 when Ellingstad and her co-leads mediated 20 different state class actions under varying statutory and common law theories. The settlements have been given preliminary approval and await final hearing in March in Indiana federal court.

Ellingstad says she appreciated the opportunity to step into a leadership role in such a massive case when she was a young attorney. She enjoyed the organizing involved and drew satisfaction from brief writing and litigating on such a massive scale.

She leads Lockridge Grindal Nauen’s employment law practice representing large and small business and governmental clients in federal, state and administrative employment actions on both defense and plaintiff sides in Minnesota and throughout the country.

She also writes and lectures frequently on the Fair Labor Standards Act and other employment law issues, conducts training seminars for businesses and counsels employers in the areas of compliance, performance management and disability compensation issues.

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