Karl Nelson is a partner in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's Dallas office and a member of the firm's Labor and Employment, Employee Benefits, Executive Compensation, and Class Action Litigation Practice Groups. He is also a founding member of the firm's Information Technology and Data Privacy Practice Group.
Recognized as one of The Best Lawyers in America® for Labor & Employment Litigation (2012-2015), Mr. Nelson counsels and represents clients in all aspects of federal and state employment regulation, labor relations, and compensation and benefits law. He has extensive experience defending complex labor and benefit matters, including class and collective actions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act. He has successfully defended clients against claims of age, race, disability and gender discrimination, sexual harassment, "whistle-blower" retaliation, and wrongful discharge under state common law, and he regularly advises and represents clients in connection with trade secret, competition, and employee-raiding issues.
Mr. Nelson also has extensive experience representing clients before federal and state administrative agencies. He has successfully represented employers before the Department of Labor in complex wage and hour and pension benefits investigations and in Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower retaliation cases, as well as before the EEOC in connection with charges of individual and class-wide discrimination. Mr. Nelson also frequently assists clients in conducting internal investigations of high-risk and high-profile matters such as those involving potential misconduct by senior executives and corporate officers and allegations of whistle-blowing under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and similar laws. Given the sensitive and high-profile nature of the matters he regularly handles, Mr. Nelson frequently works closely with in-house and outside resources to coordinate legal, investor relations, and media strategies and messaging.
Representative areas in which Mr. Nelson practices include:
- Class and Collective Discrimination Actions – Mr. Nelson has successfully represented employers in industries including retail sales, manufacturing, defense, and transportation in class and collective actions alleging discrimination in pay, promotion opportunities, and job assignments on the basis of race, sex, age, and disability. Recently, he participated as a core member of the team that redefined the legal standard for class certification in the U.S. Supreme Court’s watershed decision in Dukes, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
- Employee Benefits Litigation – Mr. Nelson has successfully defended clients in a variety of industries, including transportation, manufacturing, and defense in connection with both individual and class action claims alleging violation of fiduciary standards and other requirement of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act as well as violation of federal and state wage and hour laws. He was among the first to argue successfully for dismissal at the pleading stage of fiduciary breach and self-dealing claims in connection with ERISA “stock-drop” litigation. E.g., Lalonde v. Textron, Inc., 270 F. Supp.2d 272 (D.R.I. June 24, 2003), aff'd in part, 369 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2004).
- Other Class and Collective Employment Litigation –Mr. Nelson has also successfully defended clients in class and collective (as well as individual) actions alleging violation of wage and hour laws, including uncompensated work time and improper pay at termination, and violation of the Workers’ Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.
- Administrative Proceedings and Investigations – Mr. Nelson has represented leading corporations in industries including financial products, retail, and consumer products when responding to high profile investigations by the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Engagements have included coordinating a leading retailer’s response to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and local law enforcement in connection with the crowd-trampling death of an employee, leading the response to an investigation by the DOL’s Employee Benefit and Security Administration into pension losses resulting from the financial collapse of a major U.S. conglomerate, and counseling one of the nation’s largest private employers in connection with an EEOC investigation calling into question the structure of its hourly pay plan.
- Sensitive Internal Investigations – Mr. Nelson has represented clients across a wide variety of industries, including aviation, retail, building products, manufacturing, and hospitality, in sensitive internal investigations of possible misconduct such as employee theft of confidential information, whistle-blowing, sexual harassment, bribery, and corruption. In addition, he has led teams responding to sensitive investigations in a variety of non-employment contexts, including in response to investigations by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and to a high-profile outbreak of salmonella affecting the guests and staff of a major hotel.
- Trade Secrets and Competition – Mr. Nelson frequently counsels and represents employers in connection with the protection of proprietary, confidential, and trade secret information and enforcement of restrictive covenants limiting post-employment competition, solicitation, and employee raiding. He has successfully litigated such matters to final judgments for clients in a variety of industries, including building products, manufacturing, restaurants and hospitality, healthcare, and financial management.
- Statistical Workforce Analysis – Mr. Nelson has extensive experience assisting clients with the statistical analyses that are frequently at the heart of complex employment issues, including class discrimination claims, affirmative action policy and testing, and anticipating potential adverse impact patterns that may result from critical employment decisions.
- As a founding member of the firm's Information Technology and Data Privacy Practice Group, Mr. Nelson also regularly assists clients in anticipating and responding to privacy issues in a broad range of contexts. He has counseled and represented major companies in the retail, energy, data processing and storage, and hospitality businesses in connection with potential breaches of electronic systems and the loss of sensitive employment, consumer, and third-party data. He also regularly advises clients in connection with the use of sensitive and private information in the employment context, including monitoring and use of employee communications via company-provided electronic systems, use of background investigations and other investigative tools in hiring decisions and investigations of job misconduct, compliance with international privacy and data protection standards, the design of data breach response programs, and implementation of comprehensive records management plans that integrate the retention, secure storage, and destruction of sensitive employment and other data.
Mr. Nelson regularly writes and speaks on employment, benefits, litigation, and data security topics. He has served as an adjunct instructor in Human Resource Law and co-authored a software package for human resource professionals. He is an active member of the American Bar Association's Section of Labor and Employment Law and the American Employment Law Council. Mr. Nelson is a member of the State Bar of Texas and is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States, the First, Fifth, and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals and numerous federal district courts.
Mr. Nelson received his law degree from Duke University School of Law in 1991, graduating with high honors, and his B.B.A. in economics and business administration from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, graduating summa cum laude from the University Honors Program.