Thomas Berry wanted to be an attorney since he was in fourth grade. Growing up in the River Bend area, he credits his parents with being a big influence in his life.
“They were my role models,” he said.
After receiving his law degree from Ohio State University, he wanted to represent labor unions but none was hiring so he learned the other side of the table. After several years in Ohio, he returned to the St. Louis area where his family still lives.
For the past 30 years, he has specialized in labor and employment law. He has seen a lot of changes during that time. When he first started out, the Family Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act didn’t exist.
A principal in the St. Louis office of Jackson Lewis P.C., a boutique law firm that handles a full-range of employment and labor matters, he represents management in employment issues at the federal, state and local levels.
There are eight attorneys in the St. Louis office. With 57 offices nationwide and more than 800 attorneys, the firm offers a big firm infrastructure with a small firm atmosphere. “We take a collaborative approach to problem solving,” he said, and he and his colleagues bring a lot of expertise to the table.
Much of his time is spent training management personnel on policy issues. Employers can’t accommodate employees if they don’t understand the issues, so it’s his job to help them navigate them so they can address problems that their employees have.
“Employers don’t want to violate the law,” he said. “The last thing employers want is the time, expense and aggravation of a lawsuit.”
He serves on the Employment Law Council of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, where he represents businesses before the state legislation and state agencies. He helps advise on pending bills and legislation that focus on employment law topics.
If a business owner has a problem with compliance, he intervenes as a liaison between his client and the state agency to arrive at a solution that is consistent with the statute. This could be something as simple as working to charge the language in the statute or revising an agency regulation.
As states begin to enact legislation historically passed at the federal level, this is going to prove challenging for businesses as different states pass different laws.
One of the biggest challenges facing employers is sexual harassment. Because of the Me Too actions, he foresees businesses placing a new emphasis on sexual harassment training and taking proactive steps to understand and apply the law.
Berry lives in Edwardsville with his wife, Micki, and their three daughters.