“Meet The Visionaries Of Employee Rights” is a regular feature of Vision + Action: Inside The Institute. We are fortunate to have a loyal and growing network of individuals, law firms, foundations, and others who generously provide The Institute with resources that enable us to pursue our mission. “Meet The Visionaries Of Employee Rights” is an opportunity to express our gratitude to our dedicated donors and introduce you to some of our visionaries of employee rights.
The three plaintiffs’ employment lawyers who call themselves the Texas FLSA Posse—J. Derek Braziel (Dallas), Richard J. (“Rex”) Burch (Houston), and David L. Kern (El Paso)—are dedicated to fighting wage theft, as their name implies. “FLSA” is the acronym for the Fair Labor Standards Act. First enacted in 1938, the FLSA establishes federal minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments. Many states have similar laws. Derek, Rex, and David have excellent track records helping workers recover unpaid wages, overtime, and other benefits from their employers.
Our visionaries of employee rights are longtime members of the NELA/Institute family. David has served on NELA’s Executive Board since 2004, and all are frequent speakers at NELA’s continuing legal education (CLE) programs on wage and hour law. They formed the Texas FLSA Posse in 2009 as a vehicle to boost their sponsorship level for NELA’s Annual Gala, which supports NELA’s Amicus, Judicial Nominations, and Legislative & Public Policy Programs. In 2011, the Posse extended its philanthropic commitment to The Institute’s Employee Rights Advocacy Scholarship Program, which makes NELA’s renowned CLE programs accessible to employee rights advocates, including public interest, legal services, and private practitioners who could not attend these programs without financial assistance.
Rex explains, “From the start, we used the Texas FLSA Posse to motivate ourselves to give more. It fuels a healthy, friendly competition among the three of us.” One Posse member publically announces his annual financial commitment to NELA or The Institute, then challenges the others to match, or outdo, his level of support. This leads to a bidding war, often marked by lots of good natured teasing. One by one, The Posse members increase their pledges, with the result being significant support for the cause of workers’ rights. In discussing their generosity, the members of The Posse credit their desire to win, but underneath is their unwavering commitment to fair play and justice in the workplace.
Although David, Derek, and Rex devote themselves fulltime to what Rex terms “dragon slaying”––that is, relentlessly taking on powerful business interests on behalf of individuals with far fewer resources––they began their careers as corporate defense lawyers. Early on, however, each discovered his true calling to fight the good fight. “I was exposed to the worst corporate America had to offer,” Rex recalls. “People not getting paid what they were owed by their employers was, and still is, a huge problem. I wasn’t happy helping corporations get away with it. I just felt like I needed to go where my conscience led me, switch sides, and start representing workers rather than businesses.”
It was similar for David, who notes that as a young attorney at a large corporate law firm, he witnessed firsthand “the ugly underbelly” of big business and realized he was just not wired to help businesses do injustice to workers. “I left to start a plaintiff-side practice, and I’m glad I did,” he says. “Now, I have no trouble looking at myself in the mirror although sometimes that guy looks a lot older than me.”
Derek links the choice to “fight for the little guy” to his own background. “My mother worked a lot of overtime, and it was that extra money that allowed me to attend college. I think about people who lose opportunities because companies break the rules for economic gain. As a defense attorney, I saw people systematically and even willfully deprived of the wages they had earned. I got tired of being on the wrong side of justice and started a plaintiffs’ practice 13 years ago. It was the best professional decision I have ever made.”
Along with his fellow Posse members, Derek justifiably takes pride in his professional accomplishments. “In addition to righting wrongs, I have seen people have their lives changed when they received the money they had worked for. We have saved people’s homes. Our clients have gone back to school, changed careers, and have generally bettered themselves and the lives of their children.”
“There is nothing more rewarding than the job I have,” Rex continues. “The work is intellectually challenging and stimulating. Our success has real world impact on real working people who are now being properly compensated. This goes beyond our clients. We have changed the way that many industries are doing business.”
“People appreciate the work that we do,” explains David, whose practice includes representation of employees at all levels of government, from paramedics and municipal police officers to federal agents. He successfully litigated one of his favorite cases on behalf of a nationwide class of U.S. Customs officers. David remarked, “These are the last people we should not be paying correctly given the importance of their jobs. It took many years of litigation and it was a great win. We changed the law, got them the money they had earned, and helped make the country safer in the process.”
As major supporters of The Institute’s Scholarship Program, the Texas FLSA Posse makes it possible for public interest and legal services attorneys representing low-wage workers to receive the specialized training in wage and hour law NELA provides. Rex believes that “for public interest advocates, there is no substitute for NELA’s wage and hour programs.” Derek concurs, and David applauds the “wonderful alliances that have developed between public interest law firms and private practitioners in NELA as a result of attendance at NELA CLE programs.”
The members of The Posse all agree that many of the most egregious instances of wage theft involve low-wage workers who deserve high quality representation, as well as just compensation for their work, even if their cases cannot be viably litigated by lawyers in private practice. David states, “Some of the hardest wage and hour cases are not the most financially rewarding and advocates for low-wage workers, even though they are great lawyers, often do not get the respect they deserve from defense counsel. Any way we can help them and their clients, we need to.”
J. Derek Braziel is a partner with Lee & Braziel located in Dallas, Texas. He represents plaintiffs in collective action and class action litigation concerning rights asserted under the FLSA and commensurate state laws governing wages. Although based in Texas, Derek has a national practice and has represented employees from across the nation. Since exclusively focusing his practice on wage and hour cases, Derek has recovered more than $120 million in unpaid wages for his clients. He received his B.B.A. from Baylor University and his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. He served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Howell Cobb of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Derek is Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He was recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer by Texas Monthly from 2003 to the present, and was selected by D Magazine as one of Dallas’ Best Lawyers from 2004 to 2013.
Richard J. (Rex) Burch isn’t just handsome; he is also a big time wage and hour lawyer. He has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars from banks, energy companies, restaurants, insurance companies—just about every kind of business that has ever shorted or stiffed a worker. His firm, Bruckner Burch PLLC, is located in Houston, Texas, but they do cases all over the country.
David L. Kern received his B.A. from the University of Texas, El Paso in 1979 and his J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law in 1983 where he served on the Texas Law Review. He has been Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 1993. David’s fellow lawyers have recognized him in The Best Lawyers in America (2005–2015) and Texas Super Lawyers (2006–2015). For more than 20 years, he has conducted a nationwide practice successfully representing large groups of current and former employees in wage and hour class actions. Since 1990, David has been an active member of NELA and has served on its Executive Board for more than a decade.
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