Heather Kuhn O’Toole is a partner at MPS Law with over 20 years of experience in wide-ranging, complex litigation matters, including claims brought under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, employment disputes, wage and hour claims, mechanics liens and real estate litigation, and breach of contract actions. She came to MPS as part of the KSVB acquisition and is a key addition to our litigation team.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
From a young age, I knew I wanted to go to law school and become an attorney. I’d always enjoyed reading and writing, as well as debating issues with friends. I was good in chemistry in high school and decided to pursue that in undergraduate school. The idea of combining a science background with the law was appealing. It’s helped me in my legal career in ways I could not have envisioned. The scientific method teaches you to observe, research, question, test, analyze and re-evaluate everything. It’s the foundation of how I organize my thoughts, my writing, and of course, my courtroom preparation.
How did you decide on litigation?
When I was in law school, I thought I’d end up working in some area of criminal law. At my first summer job during law school, I was working in a post-conviction unit conducting constitutional research that would be used to challenge convictions. I loved the heavy research involved with preparing for those challenges. Once I was back in school, I broadened my outlook to other specialties beyond criminal law. The following summer, I was fortunate to secure a summer associate job at a large firm where I was exposed to a lot of different areas of the law, which was so helpful. It turned out that commercial litigation was the area that I liked the most. It seemed like a natural fit and I haven’t looked back.
What is it you enjoy most about litigation?
I like the variety of cases, the opportunity to learn new things all the time, and the ability to help my clients. In litigation there are usually one of two outcomes: settle or go to court. I like being able to help clients answer that question and feel confident in the solution. Once there is a resolution, they can move on with their lives.
Recently your prior firm was acquired by MPS Law. How has that impacted you?
For me personally and professionally, it’s an excellent match. My practice focuses on employment law and ADA litigation, which are new to MPS and offer tremendous growth potential. Nearly every business will need legal help in these areas at some point. For example, recent court decisions have been made regarding violations of the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), and many employers will be subject to exposure if they haven’t already addressed any outstanding issues. Being available as a new resource for pre-existing MPS clients has been mutually beneficial for both the clients and the firm.
Give us an overview of your Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) practice.
I’ve represented businesses and employers in lawsuits involving alleged disability rights and accessibility violations under ADA law. I also have experience in general advice and counseling regarding accessibility, which typically includes helping businesses develop ADA-compliant policies, practices, and procedures.
In general, ADA law is both a proactive and a reactive practice. When a business needs assistance in building a new structure within ADA compliance, it’s a proactive practice. It becomes reactive when a pre-existing space requires modification to fall under the ADA-compliant umbrella.
One of the more recent trends in ADA law is policy regarding service animals. Businesses who have a no-animal policy must also include a policy that makes exceptions for service animals, which inadvertently has led to litigation regarding emotional support animals. Most people are familiar with this if they have flown on a domestic airplane within the last five years. In that example, some people took it a bit too far, and most airlines responded with new rules about what they consider to be an emotional support animal. It can be a contentious issue and the policies are still evolving.
What do you like to do when you are not lawyering?
I have been a runner since high school. I love competing in marathons and I love to travel, so my last few vacations have combined both hobbies – one day I run the race, and the next day I get to be a tourist. It’s a fabulous way to travel –I highly recommend it!