Sean O’Brien is a partner at Payne & Fears, where he practices both employment and business litigation.

He has 35 years of experience litigating in federal and state courts, as well as private arbitrations. He has extensive experience in defending employers and management against federal and state law claims for wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation and harassment, as well as other related personal injury tort claims. Sean also specializes in defending employers and companies against class and Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) representative actions pertaining to federal and state wage-and-hour laws, as well as other alleged violations of the California Labor Code. 

Sean is one of the leading authorities in the state on trade secrets and unfair competition law. Since 1996, he has been the author of the chapter on “Trade Secrets and Unfair Competition” in the CEB Treatise “Advising California Employers and Employees.” He has been retained as an expert consultant/witness on these topics. Sean also has served as co-counsel with other lawyers and law firms in many trademark and patent infringement litigation matters.

He has authored several articles on business and employment matters.


Before joining Payne & Fears LLP in 2003, Sean was a business litigator for 16 years at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP in Orange County. He is considered a mentor for young attorneys throughout the firm, sharing his experience and knowledge.

Sean has raised three very successful adult daughters (none of them are attorneys) with his wife and high school sweetheart in Orange County. His wife, Lee, has worked for more than 35 years as a pediatric ICU nurse, and currently works as a supervisor for Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). Outside the office, he and his wife enjoy the beach and riding their e-bikes throughout the state. He also served for six years as the local Mock Trial High School Coach for the annual state-wide competition sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

Representative Matters

  • Represented and successfully defended The Boeing Company and Bank of America in various employment disputes, including wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation, whistle-blower claims and class actions.
  • Represented and successfully defended one of the largest providers of commercial janitorial and parking services in the U.S. in numerous employment litigation matters, including wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation, and whistle-blower claims and class actions.
  • Represented and successfully defended trucking and petroleum hauling companies in employment litigation matters, including wage and hour class actions and single-plaintiff cases.
  • Represented the Safeway/Vons grocery chain in various wage-and-hour class action matters, including the designing, implementation and coordination of several statewide employee declaration drives and witness interview campaigns.
  • Successfully defended and prosecuted numerous trade secret misappropriation and unfair competition lawsuits, advised business clients on how to best protect their trade secrets and intellectual property, and on the enforceability of covenants not to compete or other contractual restrictions on competition.
  • Advised clients on general employment matters and drafting employment agreements.
  • Handled numerous litigation matters for commercial and retail property owners and managers, including construction defect, commercial lease, and property management disputes, and a high-profile case regarding valuation of The Irvine Company.
  • Handled several litigation matters for the California Angels Major League Baseball team, including a high-profile dispute between the Angels, the City of Anaheim, and the Rams NFL franchise concerning rights to use Anaheim Stadium and its parking facilities.
  • Developed a nationwide strategy for Honda North America, Inc. to respond to discovery issues in product liability litigation involving its All-Terrain Vehicles.
  • Successfully defended several distributor cases for a large multi-level marketing organization, Herbalife International, Inc., including a six-week trial in Arizona.