Pictured: Alexander Acosta. Photographer: Emily Harris/Bloomberg
Pictured: Alexander Acosta. Photographer: Emily Harris/Bloomberg

Labor Secretary Hires Sidley Austin Associate As Counselor

By Ben Penn and Chris Opfer, Bloomberg BNA

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta hired Washington attorney Paul Ray as his counselor, the first known personnel move since the secretary was sworn in, Labor Department spokeswoman Jillian Rogers told Bloomberg BNA.

Ray was most recently an associate at international law firm Sidley Austin LLP, after clerking for Justice Samuel Alito on the U.S. Supreme Court. He started his job at DOL May 1, Acosta’s first full day as secretary, following his April 27 Senate confirmation.

Ray’s practice at Sidley focused on federal administrative law, including representing states and industry groups in various lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a review of Bloomberg Law court filings. Ray graduated law school in 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The new counselor’s career path to the DOL aligns with Acosta’s on two fronts: they both have degrees from Harvard Law School and both clerked for Alito. The secretary worked for Alito on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Third Circuit.

It’s not immediately known what Ray’s job as counselor to the secretary will entail. His administrative law pedigree could prepare him for reviewing a stack of Obama labor regulations that the business community and congressional Republicans want the agency to reverse.

Absent any Senate-confirmed assistants, Acosta may turn to Ray to examine whether to defend the prior administration’s controversial rule to expand overtime pay eligibility.

The secretary’s office is also tasked by President Donald Trump to review the fiduciary rule, which tightens conflict-of-interest restrictions on retirement investment brokers.

During his nearly three-year tenure at Sidley Austin, Ray litigated against the Obama administration’s environmental rules, with little focus on labor and employment policy, the court filings show.

His move to public service may involve a significant pay cut. Ray’s billing rate in 2016 was $730 per hour, according to the Florida Senate’s publication of a Sidley retainer for work on a redistricting case.

Ray filed a lawsuit in 2015 on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups challenging President Barack Obama’s clean power plan. Those regulations were eventually put on hold by the Supreme Court.

Ray also represented Accenture in successfully convincing a federal appeals court that a fired employee suing for age discrimination had to arbitrate his claims.

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Trucking Associations and Consumer Energy Alliance were represented by Ray in an unsuccessful federal lawsuit challenging Oregon’s clean fuel standards.

Ray also filed an amicus brief for Credit Union National Association, arguing in favor of a New York City law banning merchants from charging fees to customers who use credit cards.

A representative for Sidley Austin declined to comment.

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