Carney Shegerian: The People’s Attorney

By Susan Cushing

For many, it’s a numbers game. Big awards and impressive wins make for great press. But for Carney Shegerian, founder/owner of Shegerian and Associates, it’s about the people. Long after the trial, Shegerian continues to think about and remain in touch with the people whose lives were unfairly impacted by abusive treatment or wrongful termination. It’s his compassion and success record that has earned him recognition as the top employment attorney in the country.

Nominated 10 times for the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles Trial Lawyer of the Year award, most recently in 2022, Shegerian took home the honor in 2013. He is also included in the Daily Journal’s Top Labor and Employment Lawyers list of the top 75 attorneys. 

In addition to the many awards and honors he’s received, perhaps one of the most noteworthy accolades came from a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge who said, “Mr. Shegerian is known as one of the top two or three plaintiffs’ side trial attorneys.” High praise from someone who has a ringside seat to thousands of trials every year.

As proud and humbled as Shegerian is with all this praise, the words that mean the most to him are those spoken in gratitude from those he represents.

“It’s always about the win and getting resolution for my clients,” he says. “It never gets boring. You get to know these people, their lives and their families. It’s so hard to see the suffering they’ve endured but that only serves to motivate me to fight that much harder.”

Although he’s been practicing for more than 20 years and has headed up his own firm for more than a decade with thousands of cases under his belt, there are always a few cases that remain particularly poignant.

It’s always about the win and getting resolution for my clients. It never gets boring. You get to know these people, their lives and their families. It’s so hard to see the suffering they’ve endured but that only serves to motivate me to fight that much harder.

Shegerian spoke about a few of these, including a case resulting in one of the largest verdicts of its kind. The case was a wrongful termination lawsuit involving long-time employee Andrew Rudnicki and Farmers Insurance. An executive with the company for nearly 40 years, Rudnicki was terminated because he refused to give slanted testimony in a gender discrimination case.

“A team of five of our best attorneys and I tried the case for about five or six weeks, and it resulted in what was then the largest verdicts of its kind, the client being awarded $155 million,” says Shegerian. “His entire career had been spent with this company, more than 37 ½ years. We were able to show that the allegations were not as they claimed. Even their own witnesses backed this up.”

Some become quite emotional such as a case in which a husband and wife, Albert and Stephanie Garcias, had faithfully served a property management company for years only to be terminated when Albert became ill. Albert had consistently labored diligently going beyond the call of duty for roughly seven years before being diagnosed with Stage Four cancer. Despite this disabling diagnosis he continued to push through, working as hard as ever with only the occasional down days. In these rare instances, while undergoing treatment, he would be forced to call in outside help such as plumbers or handymen. Ultimately, angered at the small but additional costs, the company decided to terminate the two.

“This termination also meant eviction as the couple was residing on the property,” notes Shegerian. “For months they were basically couch surfing, all the while dealing with his cancer. Eventually, they moved in with the wife’s elderly father. Sadly, this was just about the time COVID hit, and not only the wife, Stephanie, but their son and her father all died as a result of being exposed to this vicious epidemic.”

While a monetary win could not bring back his loved ones, Albert is now able to deal with the exorbitant medical bills thanks to a more than $7 million win.

With a record of success for his clients that is virtually unparalleled, Shegerian, has made it his life’s mission to help those who have been wronged in the workplace. His record includes winning more than 100 jury trials, including 50 in the seven-figure range.

Shegerian with his son, Justin, who is in his second year of law school

Where It Began

Shegerian, says that the idea of becoming a lawyer was something that began when he was very young. “I wasn’t even sure what lawyers did,” he admits. “I didn’t really know any lawyers but somehow the idea appealed to me.”

As he matured and graduated first from high school and then undergraduate, the idea was more fully formed but his enthusiasm had not waned. He eagerly began law school with the idea of helping people.

Shegerian, says he enjoyed law school and was particularly happy with the type of people with whom he was sharing the experience.

“I enjoyed the camaraderie of law school,” he says. “I went to Loyola in Los Angeles, and I think it was unique in that everyone in my class seemed to have the same interests and there were a lot of do-gooders. It was very uplifting for me.”

Choosing an area of the law to specialize in is always an interesting journey. For Shegerian, his choice was made easier based on the experiences he had immediately following law school.

“The first five or so years out of law school I did business litigation and defense work,” he says. “Toward the end of working for other firms, I was assigned a couple of more traditional labor cases and the law just seemed interesting and didn’t seem like work to me. I had tried a fair amount of business litigation and defense cases for insurance companies and corporations before coming to the plaintiff side. I quickly discovered that this was where I felt at my best and most comfortable.”

 

Shegerian says he enjoys the entire process of preparing for trial. “You do need to get into a fair amount of background on the company that you’re dealing with,” he says, “but the majority of your time is spent looking for certain patterns and ways that companies operate. You’re looking for the evidence in that realm. By that I mean, looking at both the good and the bad. Everything seems to operate around the dollar.

“For instance, in the case with Albert, what really angered the owners of that company was that occasionally they’d had to hire a handyman or plumber. Albert was literally working 12 to 13 hours a day and he was happy to do so. It was almost like his outlet for not dwelling on his cancer. But the owners would see these bills coming in every other week from this plumber or electrician and they hadn’t had to deal with that for years because Albert would take care of all that.

“Most areas of discrimination involve a type of actuality where the employer thinks they are spending more money. Sometimes it might be an employee who is older and not as quick as they used to be, but they have the experience and the knowledge. Or the employee has a disability and maybe needs to take off time randomly for treatment or because they’re not feeling well. From the employer’s standpoint that results in spending more money. However, in our state, disability laws going back 40 years, and federal laws going back about 30 years, are set up to protect individuals like this. They’d rather have the employer work them, even if it means spending a little more money, than having this person become a burden on our disability pay system. It was a very smart governmental decision.”

That allowed me to breathe and absorb what I was doing case by case and push them as far as I could in a good positive way within the bounds of the law. It allowed me to focus on doing the best job possible on each case.

Inside the Trial

Shegerian, is quick to acknowledge his client’s role in the trial process. Sympathetic to what they are already going through, he is cognizant of the toll trial takes on an individual who has already been put through severe duress. One client in particular comes to mind when he speaks of the wear and tear on the human spirit.

“Twelve years ago, we had a client, Maria, who had worked for Rite Aid for about 22 years,” he says. “About 20 years into that she began being bullied by her supervisor. The abuse became so bad that Maria had a nervous breakdown on the job and had to be taken by ambulance. She returned to work after a brief disability leave, but over the next three-and-a-half years of her career she was taunted called crazy and psycho by other employees.

“We went to trial the first time,” he continues, “and Maria was just a champion. She won a $9 million verdict. However, Rite Aid appealed it. We tried it again three years later, and Maria told me she was game for the fight. She never complained. The second result wasn’t quite as good, we had a juror who had not disclosed important information.”

Finally, in a third trial Maria was awarded about $6 million plus costs and interest, which the company paid. But what most impressed Shegerian, was his client’s wherewithal throughout the long process.

“She’s definitely one of my favorite clients,” he says. “She was a trooper, never wavered never complained. She was quite impressive.”

Lessons Along the Way

No one leaves law school a fully formed attorney. It takes years and plenty of experience to really hit your stride. Along the way, if you’re lucky, you’ll have significant moments that help form that future attorney. As Shegerian, learned, some of these lessons can be quite humbling.

“I was a very young attorney in the courtroom of a judge by the name of Suzanne Bruguera. She is now a good friend, but at the time, I was defending a case and she believed I had misrepresented a fact on some paperwork. I had not and there certainly was no intent there. Perhaps, I just hadn’t explained the position well enough. But I remember learning with humility the importance of trying to understand someone else’s perspective. That is incredibly valuable, especially in this profession.

“She was very harsh with me, but it was a good albeit hard lesson that I learned. She was so stringent and terse, and at the time I couldn’t quite understand her perspective, but I realized that I just hadn’t thought it out. That’s an important lesson not only with regards to the judge but also the attorneys on the other side.”

Shegerian was also fortunate to have the mentorship of a lawyer by the name of John Marder at one of the first defense firms he worked at. One piece of advice in particular has stayed with Shegerian, all these years and one that he shares with his junior associates.

“The positives that he showed me, and he shared nothing but positives, I try to emulate with our associates,” says Shegerian. “He told me to not worry about making a mistake, just go at it, do the best you can because mistakes can be corrected. It wasn’t just words either. He allowed me to do whatever I wanted essentially, and fully supported me. That allowed me to breathe and absorb what I was doing case by case and push them as far as I could in a good positive way within the bounds of the law. It allowed me to focus on doing the best job possible on each case. I like that balance and believe it’s important in our firm that our attorneys feel that kind of support.”

Over the years Shegerian has also learned to strive for a healthy balance. It’s a hard lesson and even harder to implement when you’re so driven and so concerned about the welfare of your clients. However, as many attorneys learn, to keep pushing oneself to the point of exhaustion isn’t good for anyone in the end.

“It’s very consuming,” he says, “and if you don’t monitor it, it can be very taxing physically. Fortunately, I haven’t had that problem for a long time. You just have to pace yourself and make sure you’re taking good, positive care of yourself. There’s no question, it’s a time-consuming profession, and really there’s no way to do it right and not be time-consuming. However, there are ways to ensure that you’re not punishing your physical or mental health in the process.”

For his part, Shegerian enjoys brisk swims in the ocean and regular workouts. He says he helps keep him both physically and mentally healthy and in balance.

AT THE RISK OF SOUNDING EGOTISTICAL, I’D HAVE TO SAY I’M PROUD OF ALL MY WINS. BUT EVEN MORE IMPORTANTLY, I’M PROUD OF THE FACT THAT WE HAVE THE ABILITY TO, AT LEAST TO SOME DEGREE, INFLUENCE HOW EMPLOYEES AS A WHOLE ARE TREATED. THESE VERDICTS GET OUT AND EMPLOYERS HEAR.

The Future

For the immediate future Shegerian has set a goal of handling at least eight to ten important cases in the upcoming year. Last year, his firm handled over 150 cases with several verdicts totaling over $250 million in results.

Also, Shegerian’s son, Justin, is following in his father’s footsteps, ready to man the next generation of Shegerian attorneys. Currently, Justin is in his second year of law school at Pepperdine.

“I used to go to court and watch my dad in action when I was younger,” he says. “When he wasn’t in trial, I watched how hard he worked and the sacrifices he made.”

When not in class, Justin spends time working with his father in the firm that continues to grow.

With such an impressive history, Shegerian admits that one of the things he’s most proud of is the far-reaching effects of some of the verdicts he’s won.

“At the risk of sounding egotistical, I’d have to say I’m proud of all my wins,” he says. “But even more importantly, I’m proud of the fact that we have the ability to, at least to some degree, influence how employees as a whole are treated. These verdicts get out and employers hear. It’s not unusual for us to be called upon to consult with HR reps in LA County. One in particular told me that she had been working for a company that we had come up against a few years ago and they decided to settle. She said the judge had told her that they had made a wise decision, because he was very familiar with our firm’s ability to try cases. It makes me realize that companies and employers in general are going to be more respectful of the law, more respectful of their employees than they may otherwise have been.”

At a Glance

Shegerian & Associates 
11520 San Vicente Blvd
L
os Angeles, CA 90049
310-860-0770
ShegerianLaw.com

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