Katrina J. Dennis
There is much debate over the value of entry-level core classes at the undergraduate college level. Some in higher education see these courses as a foundation for one’s academic experience and an integral element in crafting a well rounded experience, while some students may see them as unnecessary and a waste of time, especially for those who have a clear vision of what their major will be. However, for Katrina J. Dennis, a partner at Saul Ewing LLP, an entry-level class played a crucial role in her professional career path.
|2017 Distinguished Women’s Award Celebration
Girl Scouts of Central Maryland annually honors five prominent businesswomen who serve as exemplary role models for girls because of their professional and civic accomplishments.April 20, 2017, 5-8 pm
Baltimore Country Club
Below are the 2017 Distinguished Women Honorees:
Christine D. Aspell is the Baltimore Office Managing Partner and Audit Partner with KPMG LLP. She is the Partner-in-Charge of the Baltimore chapter of KPMG’s Network of Women where she established the chapter in 2004. Additionally, Aspell is a member of KPMG’s Women’s Advisory Board to help oversee the advancement of women. Aspell is a Maryland Top 100 Women Winner (2012 and 2015).
Barbara Bozzuto has been active as an executive and community leader within the greater Baltimore region for 30 years. She was president of Bozzuto-Lowenstein Marketing, and chaired the boards of WYPR Radio and Baltimore Chamber Orchestra. Bozzuto’s professional awards include Baltimore magazine Top Businesswomen of the Year, Maryland’s Top 100 Women and the 2013 recipient of the AFP Outstanding Fundraiser of the Year.
Katrina J. Dennis is a partner with Saul Ewing, LLP. She is a commercial litigator who focuses on a wide variety of complex commercial disputes and employment litigation in federal and state courts. Dennis was named a “Rising Star” in Maryland by Super Lawyers Magazine in 2013; appointed by Governor Larry Hogan Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission; and, appointed by former Governor Martin O’Malley to the Board of Directors of the Maryland Transportation Authority.
Kathryn B. Freeland, M.B.A. is President/Chief Executive Officer of A-TEK, Inc., a Maryland based company that provides enterprise solutions, services and staffing across multiple lines of business in the areas of information technology, homeland security, healthcare, intelligence, law enforcement and life sciences. She was a Minority Enterprise Advocate Magazine award recipient and keynote speaker for the 2014 Leadership In Excellence Awards.
Dr. Leana Wen is Baltimore City’s Commissioner of Health. In 2016, she was invited to speak on a panel with President Obama about Baltimore’s efforts to address addiction as a public health crisis. Under her direction, the Baltimore City Health Department leads the country in health innovations including B’More for Healthy Babies, Vision for Baltimore, Safe Streets and Healthy Baltimore 2020. She is regularly featured on National Public Radio
“Growing up, I actually thought I wanted to be a doctor. I loved science and math in high school, but when I got to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, my first biology class involved studying the sounds of birds, which quickly turned me off,” Dennis recalls. “So, I took an entry-level psychology class, and I was instantly hooked on human interaction and the way the human mind worked. I immediately changed my major to psychology, as I knew I wanted to do something in the human relations field.”
After graduation, Dennis decided to further her education by enrolling at the University of Baltimore School of Law. “I knew I wanted to do something that dealt with human relations, so I gravitated toward employment law. In my second year of law school, I took as many employment law classes as possible. It clicked with me, and I loved it instantly.”
After graduating law school cum laude and a year’s clerkship at the Baltimore City Circuit Court, she landed a job as a first-year associate at the Baltimore firm of Kramon & Graham, P.A. She would spend nine years there and eventually make partner. In January 2015, she joined Saul Ewing LLP (www.saul.com), a full service law firm with 11 East Coast offices, as a partner in the Commercial Litigation and Labor and Employment practice groups.
Her psychology background and keen interest in human interaction has served her well in her representation of employers in employment matters such as those involving sexual harassment, gender and disability discrimination, wrongful discharge, executive compensation, and wage and hour disputes. She also assists employers in tapped to hire has a non-compete contract, and the company must decide how to handle issues dealing with the non-compete.
“I always knew I wanted to be a litigator due to my passion to advocate. Employment law came naturally to me, but my psychology background also transfers to commercial litigation, which is basically advising businesses on protecting their business interests,” Dennis says. “Businesses are corporate structures, but they are run by people. Businesses are not computers; people are intimately involved in running businesses and people are the No. 1 capital in any business. People make judgment calls and decisions that can affect a business, and a commercial litigation attorney comes in to protect the business interests where the company’s human interests sometimes may get in the way.”
In her work as a commercial litigator, Dennis handles such issues as real estate and construction disputes, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, patent infringement, merger and acquisitions disputes, regulations for minority-owned businesses, and vast federal and state compliance matters that businesses need to follow. For large companies, Dennis sometimes works in tandem with in-house counsel who has recognized that they need certain experience.
In addition to her litigation work, Dennis also trains and counsels employers with the goal of avoiding future litigation. She advises on management issues, including hiring and termination, employee handbooks, record-keeping policies and procedures, grievance arbitration, restrictive covenants, and employee leave and disability. “I counsel employers on federal and state discrimination statutes – what you can and cannot do as a manager as it relates to various leave statutes, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example. Also, there are certain questions you can and cannot ask during the hiring process and certain ones will open you up to liability,” says Dennis, who adds that she also helps employers conform to companies’ internal policies and helps draft and revise employee handbooks as needed.
“Record keeping policies are very important, so I advise on how to properly document disciplinary actions and ensure that employers have a progressive disciplinary action plan. For example, you don’t necessarily want to fire someone the first time they are late,” Dennis says.
Dennis applies many of the practices she utilizes with businesses to the institutions of higher education she advises. Two of the most common areas with universities involve compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects individuals against employment discrimination on the bases of race and color, as well as national origin, sex and religion, and compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, a federal law that states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
A Responsibility to Give Back
Dennis readily admits that her success in law is due in part by the support she received from others in the field. She particularly credits two lawyers, who happen to be sisters, for helping her in her early professional pursuits. Maria Tildon, senior vice president of public policy and community affairs at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, and Lisa Harris Jones, founder of Harris Jones & Malone, LLC, a lobbying and government relations services firm in Maryland, both played a pivotal role in Dennis’s success.
“They were more than just mentors … they also took on sponsorship roles. Mentors may come and go, but sponsors actively make an effort to make sure you’re noticed and use their goodwill to help you advance your career by putting their name on the line for you. That’s what they did for me,” Dennis says, her admiration and gratitude evident in her voice.
It was this experience that has led Dennis to take on several mentorship roles in her professional and personal life.
“I want to support any young person doing something to better themselves, and I want to give back in the same way that I was supported,” says Dennis, who is involved with organizations such as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Baltimore Chapter of The Links, Inc., an organization of accomplished, dedicated women who are active in the community. “I have stood on the shoulders of giants, and I have a responsibility to give back. It also gives me pleasure to know that I am making a difference and presents the opportunity to shape my own legacy by helping others succeed.”
At Saul Ewing, she also mentors in her role on the Hiring Committee for the Summer Program for the firm’s summer associates, those in their second or third year of law school.
One the causes nearest and dearest to heart is the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. Born in Miami into a military family, Dennis moved around a lot as a child, from base to base, including spending her middle and high school days in Bossier City, La. Her involvement in the Girl Scouts program helped her during this time.
“As a military child, the Girl Scouts helped shape who I am today. When you move around a lot as a child, it can kill your self-confidence, but the Girl Scouts provided a built-in network for me. Wherever we moved, I knew there was a local Brownie or Girl Scout troop waiting for me,” Dennis says. “There is a Girl Scouts song I still remember and live by today that includes the lyrics, ‘Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.’ As a person who has moved as much as I have moved, I have friends from all walks of life, and if they are important to you, you keep old friends in your life in some form or fashion.”
Her involvement in the Girl Scouts has continued as an adult and she has spent the last six years actively supporting the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland’s Distinguished Women’s Award Celebration (see sidebar).
Last year, Dennis was selected as Saul Ewing’s Fellow to the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, which brings together more than 240 corporate chief legal officers and law firm managing partners to participate in programs that promote diversity in the legal profession. “I want to make sure that people who look like me, female lawyers and minorities are all successful. I have attained a level of success in my career, and I want to bring others along.”
Saul Ewing has several in-house initiatives to promote diversity as well, including the Women’s Development Initiative and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Group that supports the firm’s goal to be a diverse and inclusive workplace for all attorneys, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Today, women are entering law schools at equal rates – or even higher rates – as men, and we need to ensure that they are successful when they graduate,” Dennis says. “I also want women to know that they can have it all – a successful career and a family – but there must be a support network. Otherwise, we tend to lose women before they make it to the partnership rank in the legal profession. We must stress that – yes, it will be hard work – but the reward will be worth it. I95
Katrina Dennis’ Honors and Awards
• “Rising Star” in Maryland, Super Lawyers Magazine, 2013 to present
• Appointed by Governor Larry Hogan, Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission
• Appointed by former Governor Martin O’Malley, Board of Directors of the Maryland Transportation Authority
• Greater Baltimore Committee’s LEADERship program
• Leading Women in Maryland, The Daily Record, 2013 Award Recipient
• Very Important Professionals Successful By 40, The Daily Record, 2014 Award Recipient
• Network 2000 Mentoring Class, 2010-2011