Something More Than Civil

Darcie R. Brault embodies the Midwestern qualities of Michigan’s labor and employment bar

Published in 2014 Michigan Super Lawyers — September 2014

Darcie R. Brault doesn’t keep many secrets from her peers in Michigan’s labor and employment bar.

“We are a small, close group,” she says. “We have many events—I was president of the section—and I have certainly had my share of cocktails and divulged anything of interest already. Although I did read once—in this magazine, actually—about a lawyer I know who admitted he had tattoos, and I was very surprised. So, I can tell everyone I don’t have any tattoos.”

The lawyer with McKnight, McClow, Canzano, Smith & Radtke isn’t just impressed with her fellow plaintiff’s attorneys. She also has good things to say about the defense. “I know I can count on them,” she says. “The defense bar here is something more than civil—they’re trustworthy, academic. We’ve all learned that we’ll see each other again, and that we’re better working together.”

It’s easy to see where Brault, who goes to bat for both individual workers and unions, got her inspiration.

“I grew up in a family with two working parents in unions,” she says. Her father was a patternmaker, a now obsolete occupation in which workers made wood prototypes of car parts; her mom was a teacher.

“From an early age, I was really steeped in the idea that hard work was important,” Brault says. “I was also drawn to the idea that there’s this forum or government entity in the courts and in the justice system where you can take your disputes and have them heard, and heard fairly.”

She’s not in trial as much as she’d like to be, and most of her union work is done in an arbitration forum instead of a court. “But in litigation, depositions can get intense,” she says. “You’re taking the depositions of people who aren’t on your side, and who are in the middle of a situation where your client is saying that at least somebody, if not that person, is discriminating against them. It’s taken personally in a way that can be very confrontational. But it’s really important to get outside your comfort zone and ask people those tough questions, like, ‘Do you actually think women should be barefoot and pregnant?’ It’s not a conversation you’d have at a cocktail party.”

Some of her cases, though, would make for good cocktail party discussions. “We’re working on the McDonald’s cases right now,” she says. “One of the issues that is prevalent under the Fair Labor Standards Act is whether or not employees can be required to work off the clock, and whether they can be unpaid when forced to wait for work when they’ve tendered and are ready and willing and able to work.”

At issue in this case are the practices of some McDonald’s franchises. “A worker will be scheduled and arrive at work, and then management will have them wait before they can punch in—sometimes one to two hours, depending on the labor to sales ratios,” she says. “We were able, with groups of attorneys from other states and of counsel in D.C. in particular, to look at the trend and have filed a collective action to bring an aggregate claim.”

Her work keeps her busy, but she keeps up with her kids, and is involved on the board of the Children’s International Summer Village program. “It’s a program that promotes global citizenship and peace,” she says. “It’s geared toward young kids who travel in delegations with an adult leader to different countries.”

Her own children have participated in trips to Germany and South Korea. “While one of my sons was in South Korea, we were housing a student from Indonesia,” she says. “What’s great about it is it gets kids when they’re really young thinking about culture and social justice.”

Still, the global-minded Brault knows one thing. There’s no place like Michigan, a fact that hit home while attending a legal seminar in Chicago.

“We did trial practice, and one of the Illinois lawyers in attendance did an opening statement in which he repeated this theme: ‘A promise is a promise,’” Brault says. “I thought it was a powerful, poignant statement. And these two lawyers from New York sitting next to me leaned over and said, ‘That doesn’t mean anything in New York unless it’s in writing.’ And I looked at them and thought, ‘Wow. I’m glad to be practicing here, in the Midwest, where that means something.’”

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