Gupta Wessler, a plaintiff-side boutique known for its appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court, has launched a civil rights and class action practice aimed at big technology companies by hiring Peter Romer-Friedman.
Washington-based Romer-Friedman will be Gupta Wessler’s fourth principal and joins from Outten & Golden, an employment law boutique where he had spent the past four years.
Last year, Romer-Friedman led negotiations with Facebook Inc. in a $5 million settlement that also changed how the social media giant targets employment, housing and credit ads. The company had been accused of discrimination for filtering those ads by users’ age, race and gender.
A former labor counsel for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, Romer-Friedman is currently litigating cases against T-Mobile and Amazon and he often uses civil rights-era laws to combat what he sees as digitally empowered discriminatory behavior.
“It often requires a little bit of creative thinking to apply decades-old Civil Rights laws to new and emerging problems, but that is where I think the most good can be done,” he said in an interview. “People didn’t really know what algorithms were in 1964, but they knew what discrimination was.”
Since 2009, actions in which Romer-Friedman served as lead or co-lead counsel have secured over $1.4 billion in monetary relief and programmatic changes to governmental and corporate institutions, his law firm bio said.
Romer-Friedman had previously practiced at plaintiffs firm Cohen Milstein and spent a year as deputy director of litigation for Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
He has previously led class-actions that extended parental leave policies to male employees at JP Morgan Chase & Co.; recovered $7.5 million for same-sex spouses of employees at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. who did not receive marital health insurance benefits; and recovered $19 million in unpaid military-related leave for employees of Southwest Airlines.
Romer-Friedman testified on Wednesday before the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services. He said it was likely there had been “hundreds of millions” of instances of “digital discrimination,” calling for Congress’ attention across the political spectrum.
Deepak Gupta, a consumer protection lawyer who regularly appears before the Supreme Court, founded Gupta Wessler in 2012. Gupta has been a familiar courtroom foe to the Trump administration, arguing the president should not be able to profit from his businesses while in office and representing a former Trump University student who says she was swindled.
Like Romer-Friedman’s practice, Gupta Wessler often pairs with public interest organizations to pursue legal cases.
Many of the firm’s lawyers have histories in public interest work. Gupta had been a senior counsel in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and an attorney at Public Citizen Litigation Group. Principal Matthew Wessler, a former Williams & Connolly lawyer who served on President Obama’s campaign legal team, joined Gupta Wessler in 2015 from a role at Public Justice.
While the firm has appeared numerous times before the Supreme Court and other appellate courts, it has not developed many cases in district courts. Romer-Friedman’s hire will change that.
“We think it is a really innovative, dynamic docket he has been developing and will develop here and we are excited about the symbiosis between his civil rights class action practice and our Supreme Court and appellate practice,” Gupta said.