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Emma Denny, HKM Employment Attorneys LLP
Emma Denny, HKM Employment Attorneys LLP

The POWER 30: Emma Denny

Living in Florida where the public schools are predominantly minority-based was a lesson in the effects of discrimination for Emma Denny, HKM Employment Attorneys’ managing partner in Minneapolis. “I could clearly see that I wanted to represent victims,” she said.

HKM is a nationwide plaintiff’s employment firm with 21 offices across the country. It filed its limited liability partnership documents in Minnesota in July 2021 and has three lawyers in its downtown Minneapolis office. What may appear to be a small firm is backed by the HKM infrastructure of referrals and marketing. Its main office is in Seattle.

There Denny is able to pursue the employment litigation career she started when working with the attorney general’s office in Florida.

There’s a great mix of cases involving employees ranging from CEOs to cashiers, Denny said. There is a mix of discrimination, whistleblower and retaliation cases.

She has also had cases of sexual assault and retaliation, as many as three new cases per year. “It’s shocking. It makes me sad.”

“At the end of the day, all I can get for women is money,” Denny said.

Denny, like other plaintiffs’ lawyers, lauds the court opinion in the sexual harassment case Kenneh v. Homeward Bound that says federal law does not control state cases. It also said that the courts should not replace the jury as fact finders. “Minnesota has to stop kicking cases out of court,” Denny said.

Denny also said that employees struck a victory last March when President Joe Biden signed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 into law. The act amends the Federal Arbitration Act to make pre-dispute arbitration agreements for sexual assault and sexual harassment claims invalid and unenforceable. Parties remain free, however, to mutually agree to arbitration after a claim has been asserted. The new law delegates any disputes regarding the act, including as to the arbitrability of claims, to the courts, and not an arbitrator, to decide.

Denny also serves as the chair of the Labor and Employment Law section. Its Employment Law Institute will be in May, with a mixture of in-person and online events.  She hopes for an in-person event later in the year.