The firm is committed to litigating and resolving public interest, social justice, and civil rights matters that significantly impact the lives of individuals, groups, and communities wronged by unlawful practices. We excel at representing clients in discrimination, whistleblower, ERISA, criminal/sexual violence, and public sector litigation. As one recent client noted, “This firm has proven again and again it has the necessary talent, experience, intelligence, creativity, and resources to represent workers and whistleblowers successfully against the country’s largest employers.”
The Firm’s Practice Groups
Sanford Heisler Sharp represents individuals, groups of individuals, and public entities nationwide. Our lawyers, in offices across the United States, focus on employment discrimination, retaliation, and harassment; wage and hour violations; whistleblower/qui tam matters (which includes prosecuting SEC whistleblower matters); financial services litigation (focusing on ERISA matters); and criminal/sexual violence litigation. The firm also excels in public interest litigation and advocacy, which includes the firm’s nationwide efforts on behalf of over 70 cities and counties to prosecute claims related to the opioid epidemic, as well as anti-sex trafficking cases, prisoner’s rights litigation, and efforts toward criminal justice reform.
In addition, we are the nation’s first public interest law firm with a dedicated practice group for serving the Asian American community, including in employment and whistleblower matters. We also advise entrepreneurs, companies, and startups in Silicon Valley and China on regulatory compliance under U.S. laws.
The Firm’s Growth And Partners
In 2004, David Sanford and Jeremy Heisler founded Sanford Heisler Sharp in an effort to litigate public interest and social justice cases that make a significant difference in society. David has served as lead counsel in more than 50 class actions and numerous qui tam fraud cases; he has represented over 100 general counsel, in-house counsel, and lawyers in claims against their law firms and companies.
Over the course of his 42-year legal career, Jeremy Heisler has achieved notable success in employment, civil rights, and consumer class actions and complex multiparty and multistate litigation, producing tens of millions of dollars in benefits to class members and individuals.
Since opening its doors in New York and Washington, DC, Sanford Heisler Sharp has recovered more than $1 billion for individual clients and the United States and has achieved unparalleled success securing extraordinary systemic changes in corporate America.
The firm has grown exponentially in the past decade and now has about 100 employees with over 50 attorneys in offices across the United States. Currently, the firm has 24 partners across its offices. Law360 has ranked the firm among the top firms for minority attorneys, female partners, and female attorneys. Throughout its history, the firm has been proud to attract and retain some of the very brightest and most passionate attorneys in the U.S.
In 2004, when the firm started its journey, Grant Morris joined as Of Counsel, a role he has held since that time.
In 2007, Andrew Melzer joined the firm and has co-chaired its wage and hour practice group since 2015.
In 2011, the firm opened its office in San Francisco, California. This office is now managed by Qiaojing Ella Zheng, who chairs the firm’s Asian American Litigation and Finance practice group.
In 2015, the firm opened its office in San Diego, California. This office is now managed by Charles Field, who chairs the Financial Services Litigation practice group.
Also in 2015, Ali Harwin joined the firm in New York and is Executive Chair of the firm’s Discrimination and Harassment practice group.
In 2016, Vince McKnight, who has co-chaired the firm’s Whistleblower practice since 2013, became Managing Partner of the Washington, DC office. He is now Co-Managing Partner along with Saba Bireda.
In 2017, the firm opened its Nashville, Tennessee, office when Kevin Sharp stepped down as Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee and became a named partner in the firm. Kevin Sharp now serves as the firm’s Co-Vice Chairman.
In 2018, the firm welcomed back Deborah Marcuse, who is now the firm’s Managing Partner and who opened the firm’s Baltimore office, who co-chairs the firm’s Sexual Violence, Title IX and Victims’ Rights practice group.
Also in 2018, Russell Kornblith became Managing Partner of the New York office. He is now the firm’s General Counsel.
In 2019, the firm promoted Saba Bireda to partner; Saba co-chairs the firm’s Discrimination and Harassment practice group and is now Co-Managing Partner of the Washington, DC office.
Also in 2019, the firm officially established its Asian American Litigation and Finance Practice Group, becoming the first public interest law firm in the United States with a dedicated practice group that serves the Asian American community. This practice group is led by Qiaojing Ella Zheng.
In 2020, the firm announced the promotion of 8 new partners across the firm, with four women and four people of color being elevated to that role. Specifically, the firm promoted John McKnight, who co-chairs the firm’s Whistleblower practice group; Christine Dunn, who co-chairs the firm’s Sexual Violence, Title IX and Victims’ Rights practice group; David Tracey, who co-chairs the firm’s Public Interest practice group; Danielle Fuschetti, who co-chairs the firm’s Discrimination and Harassment practice group; Melinda Koster, who co-chairs the firm’s Discrimination and Harassment practice group; and Qiaojing Ella Zheng, who chairs the firm’s Asian American Litigation and Finance practice group.
Michael Palmer, who has co-chaired the firm’s Wage and Hour practice since 2015, is now Managing Partner of the firm’s New York office.
In January 2022, the firm promoted Leigh Anne St. Charles to partner and become its Managing Partner of the Nashville office.
In 2023, the firm promoted Carolin Guentert, Jonathan Tepe, and Nicole Wiitala to partner.
In addition to the expansion of the firm’s practice areas and promotion of attorneys to the partner level, the firm continues to attract the best and brightest lawyers from the nation’s best law schools. The firm has also built out its infrastructure by establishing a formidable operations sector led by Alec Konstantin, and an experienced human resources group led by Erika Rigsby. And the firm continues to attract the highest caliber legal assistants, all of whom have graduated near the top of their class at the most competitive colleges and universities around the country.
The Firm’s History Of Success: Professional Recognition
The firm has regularly been recognized as one of the very best employee rights litigation firms in the country. Among its recent awards are:
- The National Law Journal Elite Trial Lawyers’ Civil Rights Firm of the Year (2022)
- The National Law Journal Elite Trial Lawyers’ Employment Rights Firm of the Year (2021)
- The National Law Journal Elite Trial Lawyers’ Human Rights Firm of the Year (2021)
- The National Law Journal Elite Trial Lawyers in Employment Law and Discrimination (2019)
- Benchmark Litigation’s Labor and Employment Firm of the Year (2020 & 2021)
- Nationally ranked by Chambers & Partners since 2016
- Nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the Best Law Firms in the United States since 2015
- Law360’s Employment Practice Group of the Year (2016, 2018, 2019, and 2021)
- Washington Legal Times’ Employment Litigation Department of the Year
- Law360’s recognition as one of the best firms in the nation for minority attorneys,
female partners, and female attorneys
The Firm’s History Of Success: Some Case Highlights
The firm has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for workers; tens of millions of dollars for attorneys who have suffered discrimination, retaliation, and harassment at work; tens of millions of dollars for professors and students who have brought discrimination claims against their colleges, universities, and high schools; and over $1 billion for the U.S. Government in False Claims Act (qui tam) and SEC whistleblower matters. The following are some representative examples:
Settled a race discrimination class action against the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. Our clients included the NAACP and employees and customers of Cracker Barrel. It was the only race discrimination case in which the George W. Bush administration intervened. The case settled for more than $8 million.
Settled a race discrimination class action brought on behalf of Marc Thomas and a class of African American employees. Mr. Thomas was the former CEO of General Electric Aviation Materials. The case settled on confidential terms after two years of litigation.
Settled a gender discrimination class action brought on behalf of female sales employees of Sanofi Aventis Pharmaceuticals. The class brought claims of pay and promotion gender discrimination. The case settled for more than $15.4 million.
Settled a gender discrimination class action brought on behalf of Lorene Schaefer, former General Counsel of General Electric Transportation, and a class of female attorneys and a class of female executive employees. The case settled on confidential terms after two years of litigation.
Settled a wage and hour overtime class action against C&S Wholesale Grocers for $14 million.
Secured the largest employment discrimination verdict in United States history. Our firm represented a class of about 7,000 female sales representatives with claims of gender, pay, promotion, and pregnancy discrimination against Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation. The jury found Novartis liable and awarded the plaintiffs $253 million. The case settled post-trial for $175 million, which included injunctive relief valued at approximately $22,500,000.
Negotiated a $99 million settlement on behalf of sales representatives of Novartis Pharmaceuticals for failure to pay overtime — after securing a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversal of summary judgment against the employees.
Settled a case involving a young African American man and father of two who died in custody due to complications from sickle cell anemia. The estate and family alleged that Sonoma County, jail personnel and medical staff, and outside medical providers neglected to provide proper care and treatment over the course of more than one week and allowed him to die of severe dehydration, a well-known and preventable risk of sickle cell disease. The case fully settled after a one-month trial against certain
And in 2011, David Sanford spoke at the United Nations on the Novartis gender discrimination case. The United Nations recognized the Novartis matter as among the top 10 cases worldwide in furthering women’s rights.
Settled overtime class action matters against AT&T for $28 million, resolving cases in California, Connecticut, and Georgia.
Settled a qui tam case against Amgen alleging violations of the False Claims Act by promoting off-label drug use and illegal kickbacks to promote sales for $762 million. The settlement included a $612 million civil settlement, a $14 million forfeiture, and $136 million in criminal fines.
Settled a whistleblower case against Omnicare for $120 million. The case involved alleged violations of the Medicare Anti-Kickback Statute and the False Claims Act.
Achieved an $11.3 million settlement against Smith & Nephew in qui tam (False Claims Act) case. The firm had previously litigated a class action race discrimination case against Smith & Nephew that settled for $4 million in 2009.
Negotiated a $68 million settlement under the California False Claims Act against Office Depot in a case that involved allegations of overcharging over 1,000 government agencies for office and classroom supplies.
Secured a $5.1 million settlement against Meridian, a health care company specializing in the management of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), for alleged violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute and False Claims Act. The firm’s client alleged that Meridian offered and paid remuneration to physicians of an ASC in order to secure patient referrals for services paid for by Medicare.
Secured the release of Albert Woodfox from solitary confinement. Mr. Woodfox, along with two others, challenged the constitutionality of being held in solitary confinement for more than four decades (since 1972). Mr. Woodfox was granted habeas corpus (his conviction was found to be unconstitutional) and in February 2016 he was released from prison after serving more time in solitary confinement than any prisoner in U.S. history.
Settled a gender discrimination class action against Alcon Pharmaceuticals for $8 million.
Settled a gender discrimination class action for female tech workers against Qualcomm for $19.5 million, and an additional $4 million in comprehensive programmatic relief.
Won one of the largest jury verdicts and monetary awards in a Title IX case in U.S. history on behalf of women’s basketball coach Beth Burns. Coach Burns brought a wrongful termination and retaliation suit against San Diego State University, alleging that she was terminated after she raised complaints about gender equity in athletics. A jury awarded Coach Burns $3,356,250 in damages following a four-week trial.
Settled, along with the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Legal Services of Central New York, a case that challenged the constitutionality of locking youth in solitary confinement and depriving them of educational services required by law. As a result of the settlement, the jail could no longer use 23-hour-per-day solitary confinement for juveniles and was required to ensure access to educational instruction and special educational services.
Settled a gender discrimination class action against Forest Laboratories, recovering $4 million on behalf of female pharmaceutical sales representatives who alleged that they were paid less than their male counterparts.
Negotiated a $5.5 million settlement on behalf of Google employees who alleged they were denied overtime compensation and were not given accurate wage statements.
Won the first #MeToo trial in United States federal court when a jury returned a verdict for Enrichetta Ravina against Columbia University in her gender-based retaliation claims.
Achieved a $23.5 million settlement under the False Claims Act against medical device company Medtronic for violations involving allegations of an illegal kickback scheme.
Settled an ERISA class action against Eaton Vance for $3.45 million. The firm, on behalf of the class, alleged that Eaton Vance filled its 401(k) plan with expensive, poorly performing funds that earned fees for the company but deprived employees of millions of dollars in retirement savings.
Achieved a $20 million trial verdict on behalf of 22 victims in a case against the entity “Girls Do Porn.” The 22 women were manipulated and defrauded by the owners and operators of the pornography website.
Settled a class action against Rabbi Freundel and other defendants for $14.25 million stemming from Rabbi Freundel’s secret videotaping of female congregants and students without their consent.
Negotiated a settlement of over $2 million on behalf of the former CEO of the Nashville Airport, who was terminated while on medical leave to receive life-saving cancer treatment.
Settled a Title IX class action lawsuit against Dartmouth College on behalf of current and former female graduate and undergraduate students within the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences who alleged that, for years, the school had turned a blind eye to sexual harassment and assault by three professors. In addition to a court-approved monetary settlement of $14 million, Dartmouth agreed to robust programmatic relief valued at $1.5 million.
Together with our co-counsel, settled a class action against Gateway Plaza, a large residential apartment complex in New York City, for $10 million. During the action, the defendants also made millions of dollars in structural changes and improvements designed to address the issues raised by the suit. The class alleged violations of implied warranty of habitability as a result of not adequately heating apartments during the winter months or cooling apartments during the summer months. The class claimed that these problems were caused by structural and other defects in the apartment units and that residents were required to consume excessive amounts of electricity to compensate for the defects.
Settled an age discrimination class action against Volkswagen on behalf of more than 700 auto workers following a successful challenge to the company’s arbitration agreement. The class alleged that Volkswagen engaged in a company-wide policy of age discrimination designed to phase out older workers. The settlement included significant injunctive relief, requiring the company to make changes to its hiring, promotion, management training, and complaint and investigation procedures, as well as undisclosed
terms of settlement on behalf of individual workers.
The firm represented the former Executive Vice President and Chief Security Officer of Wells Fargo who assisted the OCC, SEC, and DOJ to recover $3 billion in fines and penalties arising out of the Wells Fargo “fake account” scandal. To date, our client has received a $1.6 million award from DOJ, the highest possible whistleblower award under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) program.
Settled a False Claims Act case against Navistar for $50 million stemming from allegations that Navistar forged invoices and other data during the negotiations of a multibillion-dollar defense contract.
Won an $8.3 million arbitration award for a Chinese American executive who co-founded a semiconductor company based in both Silicon Valley and China. He was defrauded by his co-founder and wrongfully deprived of his promised equity stake in the company that he helped create.
Received final court approval for its $5.4 million settlement against Transamerica. The class alleged that the Transamerica Plan’s fiduciaries retained several poorly performing investment options for the Plan.
Received preliminary approval for its $13.75 million settlement against Walgreens. Walgreens was alleged to have mismanaged retirement funds by failing to remove from its employee retirement plan a suite of ten target retirement date funds that have underperformed their performance benchmarks for nearly a decade.
Negotiated and received preliminary approval for a $2.1 million settlement on behalf of a class of less than 100 sales employees at an Alaska telecom company who alleged that they were misclassified as exempt from overtime.
Settled an Anti-Kickback and False Claims Act lawsuit against Roche and Humana companies on behalf of a whistleblower who alleged that defendants had an illegal arrangement to get Roche diabetes products on Humana’s Medicare Advance formulary, defrauding taxpayers. The defendants agreed to pay $12.5 million to settle the government’s claims, from which the whistleblower recovered $3.6 million.
Secured approval of a $7.75 million settlement against Western Digital Corporation. The plaintiff’s complaint, which was settled before it was even filed, alleged gender discrimination in pay and promotions.