Gardere - Attorney Bio - Rachel Powitzky Steely,  Partner,  Houston Office,  

Rachel Powitzky Steely
Partner
Labor and Employment
Wells Fargo Plaza, Suite 3400
1000 Louisiana
Houston,  Texas  77002
Phone: 713.276.5605
Fax: 713.276.6605
rsteely@gardere.com

Area(s) of Expertise

Practice Emphasis

Rachel Powitzky Steely specializes in the practice of employment law in state and federal courts. She counsels companies with an emphasis on measures to prevent costly litigation and to improve the performance of executives and employees. She represents clients in defending against or seeking expedited relief based on unfair competition, non-competition, non-disclosure and non-solicitation agreements.

Ms. Steely also counsels and represents companies and executives in matters involving discrimination, terminations, trade secret misappropriation, harassment, wage and hour issues, disability laws, workers compensation retaliation, defamation, ERISA and benefits. She is a former student investigator for the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor and is Board Certified, Labor & Employment Law, by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Ms. Steely is recognized as a top advocate in the field of employment litigation and has been recognized in Texas Super Lawyers annually since 2005. She was also recognized in Texas Rising Stars in 2004. Ms. Steely has been listed in Houston's Top Lawyer and/or Professionals on the Fast Track by H Texas Magazine annually since 2004.

Clients and Matters

Ms. Steely represents clients of all sizes, including multinational corporations as well as localized businesses and executives. Her clients have included engineering firms, oil and gas companies, drilling companies, insurance companies, chemical companies, service companies, executives and retailers.

Unfair Competition Representation

  • Prosecuted or defended over 30 temporary restraining order or temporary injunction proceedings in state and federal court, primarily focusing on unfair competition, trade secret misappropriate, and non-solicitation and non-competition agreements.
  • Represented several groups of departing executives and managers of international insurance company against former employer for claims of breach of partnership agreement, stock option agreement and breach of non-competition, non-solicitation and confidentiality agreements .
  • Represented new insurance brokerage firm in lawsuit by former employer of executives for claims of tortious interference breach of non-competition, non-solicitation and confidentiality agreements.
  • Represented financial services firm after key sales employees joined a competitor and attempted to take key clients to the new firm.
  • Represented fire and security company in several cases against employees for misappropriation of confidential information, breach of fiduciary duties and breach of non-solicitation agreements.

Preventative Employment Representation and Human Resources Counseling

  • Advising and defending clients from whistleblower claims under Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which has involved advising board of directors and officers with respect to employee investigations and appropriate actions.
  • Teaming with employers with a focus on preventative measures to reduce litigation and whistleblower and safety complaints including:
    • Development of operational strategies to incentivize employees towards maximizing output and safety;
    • Training managers regarding strategies to avoid litigation or governmental investigations;
    • Coordinate programs to ensure compliance with different federal and state laws at the time of termination, medical leave or layoff; and
    • Drafting numerous applications, policies and procedures and guidelines in to help companies comply with federal and state laws.
  • Negotiate and draft executive and employee employment agreements containing stock option, non-competition, commission, 409A and intellectual property rights provisions.
  • Assist employers in the documentation and initiation of terminations and mass layoffs in conjunction with federal and state laws, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, ARRA and WARN.
  • Assist employers in classification of employees as exempt or non-exempt and provide advice with regard to competitive pay strategies.
  • Investigation of employee and shareholder whistleblower, discrimination, safety and theft complaints.
  • Assist employer in monitoring and training managers to enhance employee performance through toolbox series and effective performance management and evaluation.
  • Advising and defending clients from whistleblower claims under Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which has involved advising board of directors and officers with respect to employee investigations and appropriate actions following employee.
  • Timely advise clients regarding new laws and decisions affecting clients' workforce, policies and benefits.
  • Consulted with American companies on employment agreements and issues for overseas workers.
  • Providing monthly and quarterly lunch seminars on important employment topics and strategies.

Trial Experience

  • Represented employer in workers compensation retaliation litigation from trial to the Texas Supreme Court.
  • Represented plan in trial and argument to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals regarding ERISA fiduciary responsibilities and the Tax Reform Act of 1986.
  • Represented pension plan fiduciaries in dispute over appropriate investment choices.
  • Represented oil and gas services company against harassment and discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in federal court.
  • Represented horticultural firm for misclassification of employees as independent contractors.
  • Represented accounting and consulting firm in action by former employee for job misclassification and Family and Medical Leave Act retaliation.
  • Represented several large national corporations in disputes involving non-competition, non-solicitation and confidentiality agreements.
  • Represented employer in litigation of OSHA safety violations in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Represented employers in wage and hour disputes under the Fair Labor Standards Act for improper payment or classification of workers, including collective actions.

Executive and Employee Separation, Compensation

  • Represented large insurance underwriter in action by former employee for amounts due under executive contract.
  • Represented home builder in claims by executive of unpaid bonuses and commissions.
  • Represented employer in threatened union concerted activity.
  • Represented partners on several occasions in partnership dissolution litigation involving theft of inventory, breach of fiduciary duties and winding down.
  • Represented companies against executives claiming amounts owed pursuant to "change of control" and "good reason" termination provisions in executive agreements.
  • Represented Chief Risk Officer in employment dispute and investigation by SEC.
  • Represented several corporate officers upon termination of employment.

Representation involving Federal and State Retaliation and Discrimination Laws

  • Assisted clients in investigating numerous complaints of race, age, gender, disability, sex, religious, FMLA and FLSA retaliation and/or discrimination.
  • Represented construction companies in OFCCP and FLSA investigations.
  • Represented numerous energy companies in many instances of litigation and charges filed by former employees alleging race, age, sex and national origin discrimination.
  • Represented a chemical manufacturer in defending claims regarding disability and age discrimination.
  • Represented multiple companies in defense of claims of workers injury and retaliation.
  • Represented multiple companies, including an oil and gas services company, in claims of same-sex harassment and sex discrimination.
  • Represented title insurance company in race discrimination lawsuit associated with mass layoff.

Education

  • J.D., South Texas College of Law (1994)
    • Member, National Order of Barristers
    • Member, The Order of Lytae
    • Finalist, ABA Appellate Advocacy Competition (1994)
    • Finalist, American Trial Lawyers Association Mock Trial Competition (1993)
  • B.S., Texas A&M University (1991)

Professional Affiliations

  • Admitted to practice before:
    • Texas State Courts
    • U.S. District Court for the Southern, Eastern and Western Districts of Texas
    • U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona
    • U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th and 9th Circuits
    • Texas Supreme Court
  • Member, State Bar of Texas
  • Board Certified, Labor & Employment Law, Texas Board of Legal Specialization
  • Member, Houston Bar Association
    • Former Chair, Lawyers in Public Schools
    • Former Member, Adopt an Angel Program Committee
    • Former Member, Speakers Bureau Committee
    • Former Member, Special Olympics Auction Committee
  • Fellow, Texas Bar Foundation
  • Member, Texas Young Lawyers Association
    • Vice-Chair, Crossing the Line and Borders & Boundaries Program
  • Board Member, Houston Young Lawyers Association
    • Chair, Crossing the Line and Borders & Boundaries Program
  • Member, Womenís Energy Network, Houston

Honors and Awards

  • Recognized, Texas Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters business, as published in Texas Monthly (each year since 2005)
    • Employment Litigation: Defense
  • Recognized, Texas Rising Stars, a Thomson Reuters business, as published in Texas Monthly (2005)
  • Recognized, Houstonís Top Lawyers, H Texas Magazine (2004, 2011, 2012)
    • Labor and Employment
  • Recognized, Professional on the Fast Track, H Texas Magazine (2005, 2008, 2009)

Community Involvement

  • Corporate Guild Board Member, Dress for Success Houston
    • Chair, "A Night Out" (primary fundraiser held annually) (2011-2014)
  • Coach, West University Girls Softball Association
  • Volunteer, St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church
    • Member, Capital Campaign Committee
    • Volunteer, Lordís Day Program
    • Volunteer, Fall Festival
  • Volunteer, St. Vincent De Paul Catholic School
    • Volunteer, Parent Teacher Organization
    • Member, Gala Committee
    • Volunteer, Breakfast with Santa
  • Volunteer, Braeswood Place Mothers of Young Children
  • Former Board Member, Friends of the Ronald McDonald House
  • Former President and Board Member, Young Friends of the Ronald McDonald House
  • "Cookie Mom," San Jacinto Girl Scouts, Troops 25272 and 25100

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