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Palefsky, Cliff

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Updated 11/20/2013
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McGuinn, Hillsman & Palefsky

535 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133 -4628

Phone: 866-559-2799
Fax: 415-403-0202
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Lawyer Overview

"The American worker has no stronger ally than Cliff Palefsky"

(Super Lawyers magazine profile 2008 Areas of Practice: Employment Law and Civil Rights)

Education: State University of New York at Buffalo (B.A., 1974); Georgetown University (J.D., 1977)

Cliff Palefsky is consistently recognized in professional surveys and legal publications as one of the leading employment and civil rights lawyers in the country. He has been described as a "force of nature" due to his involvement in many of the leading cases and legislation that have come to define the field of employment law.

He has helped draft legislation and frequently testifies before National and State legislative bodies. In 2009 Mr. Palefsky was asked to testify before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on the issue of whether mandatory binding arbitration is fair to employees.

Mr. Palefsky has been included as one of the Best Lawyers in America every year since that survey's inception in 1986 and was named Best Lawyer of the Year in the San Francisco Labor and Employment Law category in 2011. In 2013 Best Lawyers named Mr. Palefsky Best Lawyer of the Year in the San Francisco Employment Law - Individuals category.

Mr. Palefsky has been called one of the "Most Feared Lawyers" by Human Resources Magazine and the San Francisco Business Journal. In 2010 Mr. Palefsky received the California Lawyer Magazine Attorney of the Year Award for his work as part of a litigation team that obtained a $78.5 million settlement – the largest settlement in the history of the U.S. Department of Education. The San Francisco Chronicle identified him as one of the top 25 attorneys in Northern California. Chambers USA described him as "the leading plaintiff side employment lawyer in California" and named McGuinn, Hillsman & Palefsky as the leading plaintiff employment firm in the state.

Mr. Palefsky has been named to the Law Dragon 500 listing on four occasions: 500 Leading Lawyers in America (2005) (2007); 500 Leading Litigators in America (2006); and 500 Leading Plaintiff Lawyers (2007).

Mr. Palefsky has argued eight cases to the California Supreme Court and has been involved in numerous landmark and precedent setting cases such as Sonic-Calabasas v. Moreno , Rulon Miller v IBM, Foley v Interactive Data, Armendariz v Foundation Health Psychcare, Little v Auto Stiegler, Gentry v Circuit City, and Duffield v Robertson Stephens, among others. He has been deeply involved in the development of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing in the employment context and especially in the application of the doctrine in the context of executive compensation, stock options and bonuses.

He was a founding board member of the National Employment Lawyers Association and served on its Executive Board for 10 years. He is the co-chair of NELA's Mandatory Arbitration Task Force and was co-chair of the Privacy, ADR and Securities Industry Arbitration Committees. He also served on the Executive Board of the California Employment Lawyers Association for 12 years and is presently on the organization's Advisory Board.

He helped draft the nations first worker privacy, drug testing and lifestyle discrimination laws which served as models for similar legislation across the country. He has also been deeply involved in both state and federal legislative activities protecting the rights of workers.

Cliff is an advisor to the American Law Institute on the drafting of the Restatement of Employment Law and is a co-author of the CEB's Wrongful Employment Termination Practice treatise. He is a Fellow in the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers and has authored numerous articles on employment law and mandatory arbitration. Mr. Palefsky is a frequent speaker nationally on subjects relating to employment law and the field of ADR.

Areas of Practice

  • Employment Law
  • Civil Rights

Representative Cases

  • Sonic-Calabasas v. Moreno
  • Rulon Miller v IBM
  • Foley v Interactive Data
  • Armendariz v Foundation Health Psychcare
  • Little v Auto Stiegler
  • Gentry v Circuit City
  • Duffield v Robertson Stephens

West Practice Categories

Civil Rights, Employment Law -- Employee, Employment Law -- Employer


Bar Admissions

  • California, 1977

Professional Associations and Memberships

  • National Employment Lawyers Association (Founding Board Member)
  • California Employment Lawyers Association (Executive Board)
  • NELA's Mandatory Arbitration Task Force (Co-Chair)
  • National Employment Lawyers Association (Executive Board)
  • Privacy, ADR and Securities Industry Arbitration Committees (Co-Chair)

Honors and Awards

  • Head of the Class / The Recorder, September 21, 2009
  • True Believer, Super Lawyers Magazine, August 1, 2008
  • 500 Leading Lawyers In America / Law Dragon Magazine
  • 2010 California Attorney of the Year / California Lawyer, 2010
  • The Top 10 Plaintiffs' Attorneys to Fear the Most - 2007 / Human Resources Executive Magazine, August 1, 2007
  • Chambers & Partners / Leading Business Lawyers, October 21, 2004
  • The Top 25 Attorneys / San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2003
  • Portraits in Trepidation / SF Business Times, February 18, 1994
  • Best Lawyers in America, 1986 - Present
  • "Most Feared Lawyers" by Human Resources Magazine
  • California Lawyer Magazine Attorney of the Year Award
  • One of the top 25 Attorneys in Northern California
  • The Leading Plaintiff Side Employment Lawyer in California
  • 500 Leading Lawyers in America, 2005
  • 500 Leading Lawyers in America by Law Dragon 500 listing, 2007
  • 500 Leading Litigators in America by Law Dragon 500 listing, 2006
  • 500 Leading Plaintiff Lawyers by Law Dragon 500 listing, 2007
  • MH & P Received Top Billing in the Chambers USA Leading Business Lawyers Publication
  • Best Lawyer of the Year in the San Francisco Labor and Employment Law category, 2011 - Present
  • Best Lawyer of the Year in the San Francisco Employment Law - Individuals category, 2013 - Present
  • "Most Feared Lawyers" by San Francisco Business Journal
  • Fellow, College of Labor and Employment Lawyers

Classes and Seminars

  • Co-Author of the CEB’s Wrongful Employment Termination Practice treatise


  • Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, District of Columbia, 1977
  • State University of New York, Buffalo, New York, 1974

Offers Free Initial Consultation


Published Works

  • "The Civil Rights Struggle Against Mandatory Arbitration," Employee Rights Quarterly, (Vol. 1; No.3)
  • "Arbitrary Arbitration: The Founders Would Frown on Mandatory ADR," San Francisco Daily Journal, March 7, 1995
  • "Credibility is Everything: In Designing an ADR Program, Fairness is Key," The Recorder, November 20, 1996
  • "Take My Rights, Please," BNA Employee Relations Weekly, Vol. 15, 9/8/97. p. 947
  • "“It's In Dispute," California Law Business, Feb. 24, 1997
  • "Corporate Vice Precedents: The California Constitution & San Francisco Workers’ Privacy Ordinance, "Nova Law Review, Vol. II, Number 2 (Pg. 669ff.), 1987
  • Co-author, Wrongful Employment Termination Practice, published by California Continuing Education of the Bar
  • "Random Drug Testing: Employees or Parolees," BNA Employee Relations Weekly, Vol. 5, No. 17 (Pg. 529ff.), April 27, 1987
  • "Wrongful Termination Litigation: Dagwood & Goliath," Michigan Bar Journal, Pg. 376ff., September, 1987
  • When Bay Area Employment Law Specialists are Asked Who Stands Out on the plaintiffs Side of the Bar, the Answer Often Begins With Five Words: "Well, Cliff Palefsky — Of Course."
  • Some People are Guided by a Moral Compass; San Francisco Employment Attorney Cliff Palefsky has a Moral GPS.
  • Lawdragon Presents its Annual Guide to the Nation's Top Lawyers: The Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America.
  • The California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year Awards Recognize Lawyers Throughout the State Whose Legal Work Made a Profound Impact in 2009.
  • MH & P Received Top Billing in the Chambers USA Leading Business Lawyers Publication
  • The Following List Was Prepared Exclusively For Human Resource Executive® By Lawdragon, A Los Angeles-Based Networking Site for Lawyers and Clients. the Attorneys were Selected on the Basis Of Curriculum-Vitae Analyses, Evaluations by Clients and Peers, and Reporting by The Lawdragon Staff.
  • As the Saying Goes, it Takes One to Know One. We Canvassed Scores of Lawyers, Judges, Headhunters and other Legal Observers for their Picks. Here are the 25 lawyers whose Names Came Up the Most Often and with the most Enthusiasm…
  • Scouting Reports on Most-Feared Lawyers
  • What the Scouts Say: "He Just Picks You Clean. You Not Only Lose to him, but You Enjoy it Because He's Such a Nice Guy."
Office Information


535 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133-4628






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