"I didn't have the money to pay for law school in the States when I migrated, so I had to work first," said Atty. C. Joe Sayas, Jr. when asked how he started out on his American adventure in his mid-twenties in the mid-80s.
"I had to roll up my sleeves, sometimes working as a secretary, sometimes as paralegal, other times as researcher, sometimes as a copier, sometimes even as a messenger for this Filipino-American trial attorney, who was educated in the US, Joe Lauchengco (Jr.). He gave me a break," continued Sayas.
"In the Philippines, I had 4 years of law school and 6 months to review for the bar. But here, my God, I had only two months to study a new set of laws before the California bar exam, while working full-time, and without the benefit of attending an American law school! It was really a roll of the dice," he recalled, remembering the pressure and uncertainty combined. "I just did my best."
And his best, as it turns out, was good enough. He passed the bar and in 1990, obtained his Master of Laws from the Georgetown University in Washington D.C., then the second most expensive law school in the US. He met his wife, Anna Marie Santos from Quezon City, in the US and raised two children with her.
These days, C. Joe Sayas, Jr. is recognized as one of California's top employment and labor law attorneys by the Daily Journal. He has devoted his three decades of litigation career to protecting workers' and consumer rights. He has fought for employees discriminated due to disability, race, or sex, including thousands harmed by employer wage theft in both individual and class actions.
His professional life may be comparable to the story of David and Goliath for he has waged legal battles against giant corporations in the US on behalf of his Filipino and minority clients. He helps his kababayans and other disadvantaged groups in the US through the firm he founded in 1991, the Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr., which tenaciously advocates for pro-employee and consumer actions against powerful entities that deny equal treatment and violate an individual's rights to life, liberty and property. The firm has prevailed in actions ranging from discrimination on account of gender, disability and national origin, to civil rights violations and unfair business practices.
"...I had only two months to study a new set of laws before the California bar exam, while working full-time, and without the benefit of attending an American law school! It was really a roll of the dice."
A champion of fellow Filipinos and low-wage earning minorities, Atty. Sayas had recovered million dollar settlements. In 2012, he was lead counsel in a class action suit (Taylor v. Shippers Transport Express), which sought regular employment status for 540 drivers against a trucking company, which misclassified their drivers as independent contractors and denied them their wage and hour rights. The three-year litigation resulted in a court victory and a settlement of $11.4 million to the drivers. That same year, in another class action suit (Diaz v. AMPCO), Atty. Sayas fought for the rights of parking employees who were being shortchanged by their company in unpaid overtimes and denied meal breaks. After five and a half years of litigation, he obtained a recovery of $4.7 million in back wages for thousands of parking employees.
As the voice of Filipino-Americans in the US courtroom, he represented the family of a 39-year old mentally disabled Filipino who was fatally shot by a Long Beach, California police officer. He argued that the officer failed to implement a tactical plan, which would have allowed him to understand that the victim was non-violent. A two-year hotly contested litigation followed, in which the victim's family received $2 million in settlement, the biggest entered into by the City of Long Beach in its history of police litigation.
Another case involved a 73-year old Filipino who worked as a security guard. His battle was against his employer who prodded him to accept his salary monthly, instead of wages based on hourly rate and forced him to work seven-days a week, without overtime. Atty. Sayas was able to obtain a favorable verdict and an unprecedented amount of $425,000. It helped that he speaks Filipino, which enabled him to communicate effectively with his Filipino clients.
More than being an exceptional lawyer, Atty. Sayas also lends his support to the Filipino-American community in California. He is a long-time member of the board of directors of the Search for Pilipino Americans (SIPA), an organization that provides a wide-range of programs and services to Filipinos in Los Angeles. Moreover, since 2017, he has donated $20,000 to the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) to help its Employment, Education and Outreach Program (EMPLEO). He also gave $5,000 to the Filipino Migrant Center (FMC) to support its anti-human trafficking activities.
For his notable work and accomplishments, he received several accolades from his peers and legal media. He was one of the 2015 Top Labor and Employment Attorneys by the Daily Journal and is consistently being recognized as a Super Lawyer in the field of employment law by the Los Angeles Magazine. In 2016, he received the Community Champion Award from the Philippine-American Bar Association, the Apo Award from SIPA in 2017, and the Justice Award from the FMC.
In recognition of his advocacy for the rights of the underprivileged and the minorities in the courtroom, he was conferred with the 2018 Presidential Award for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas under the Pamana ng Pilipino category. He has been recognized as a Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine for 7 years.
Atty. Sayas' roots can be traced to Silang, Cavite. He acquired both his Political Science and Law degrees from the University of the Philippines, in 1978 and 1982 respectively, before working at the famed Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz (ACCRA) Law Offices and a number of other law firms in the Philippines.
Asked what his parents had to say when he announced that he was migrating to the US, he grinned and replied, "Oh, my parents were happy that I was getting out of Cavite."
His parents feared that he would enter local politics one day. Back then, his home province was a violent environment. In fact, two cousins he grew up playing basketball with had been shot dead.
Quite satisfied that taking the road 'less traveled by has made all the difference' for him, Robert Frost fan Atty. Sayas adds that like the poet, he still has 'miles and miles to go before [I go] he goes to sleep.'
Asked about his retirement plans, he replied, "I still have to finish my missions here. But I am open to other possibilities, teaching maybe. Being involved in civil rights action groups, handling pure civil rights cases, discrimination cases against people in power, and basically, cases that impact people's lives and give something back to the community in terms of those skills that God has given us."