July 31, 2019
It was decades ago, but Sue Ann Van Dermyden remembers her first encounter with the law.
"I was pulled over for underage driving at age 9," she said.
Van Dermyden explained that she was a farm kid in the Midwest and it was common for children to drive on the farm where everyone is expected to work.
"In Wahpeton, North Dakota, everyone drives at a very young age. It's a matter of survival," she said. In this case, though, the sheriff caught her and her father was fined.
Nowadays, Van Dermyden deals with more adult workplace matters. Her Sacramento firm, Van Dermyden Maddux, conducts Title IX and workplace investigations. In addition, Van Dermyden leads training seminars on employment issues and provides advice to businesses on employment matters. Most recently, she was hired to investigate accusations of sexual harassment against Sacramento Kings Head Coach Luke Walton.
Workplace investigations encompass many topics, including discrimination, conflicts of interest, whistleblower allegations, embezzlement, and disability and accommodation issues. But sexual harassment has received the most attention in recent years, thanks largely to the #MeToo movement. According to Van Dermyden, though, investigations of harassment started climbing way before the Harvey Weinstein case put the issue in the public eye.
"We have seen an upswing in investigations, both on campuses and in the workplace, since I started this in 2006. It has just exploded," she said.
She likes employment law because workplace investigations often give both employers and employees an opportunity to solve issues without turning to litigation.
Van Dermyden was not born wanting to be a lawyer. After growing up in North Dakota, she longed for a warmer climate, so she "got in my old Chevy and drove as far as I could west before I fell in the ocean," which for her, turned out to be Chico. She enrolled in the university there, majoring in political science.
Even as she neared graduation, Van Dermyden wasn't sure what she wanted to do, so a friend suggested she take her talent for writing and go to law school. She wanted to stay in California, so she chose McGeorge School of Law for its solid regional reputation.
She also knew about McGeorge's strong alumni network, something that has helped her develop her career. She cites Tom Knox '76, one of the founding partners of Knox, Lemmon and Anapolsky, an especially important mentor.
Van Dermyden built her network through Sacramento's Anthony M. Kennedy Inn of Court, an association of McGeorge professors, lawyers, judges and other legal professionals who meet regularly to discuss ethics, professionalism and civility.
"(Sacramento) is a tight legal community, and I think that's very helpful for students as you're trying to discover what your path is and surround yourself with mentors," she said. "McGeorge, I think, has done a really good push with their mentor program."
Van Dermyden has given back to McGeorge by serving as a mentor to law students. She has also hired McGeorge graduates. Counting herself, there are five McGeorge alumni working at Van Dermyden Maddux.
"We've been strong supporters of McGeorge," she said. "We've hired four McGeorge grads. That's important to me. Getting that first job is really important, so we've supported the law school in that way."