Never Mind, Ms. Guerrero: Hillary Clinton Says You Should Just “Get Over It”

Vanina Guerrero, a junior partner at mega-law firm DLA Piper, has alleged that a rainmaking partner who recruited her to the firm pursued and groped her, and then retaliated when she rejected his advances.

“I experienced such horrific conduct at the hands of a senior male partner and deserve to openly litigate my claims,” she wrote in a letter. The problem is that she is bound by her agreement with the firm to submit the dispute to binding arbitration.

A “rainmaker,” eh? That rang a bell…YES! Here’s a post, “Tales Of The King’s Pass: The Rainmakers,” I wrote last year about the typical attitudes on major law firms when protecting female staff against sexually abusive partners who make a lot of money for the other lawyers. I wrote in part, in revulsion over an ABA Journal article about how a sensible firm with a harassing but lucrative partner had to “balance’ considerations…

[T]he consultant begins quoting another ethics-lite law firm consultant. Apparently they are all like this. He says that…

“…most firms tolerate rainmakers’ abusive behavior unless it threatens something essential in the firm’s culture. Peters says firms must draw a line when the “fabric of the firm” is at risk. “The firm must win. No one, not even a rainmaker, can be allowed to destroy the fabric of the firm.”

That’s the standard? Destroying the firm? I think what this Authentic Frontier Gibberish means is that when a rainmaker does so much internal damage to the organization that even all the money he or she brings in won’t make up for it, that abusive rainmaker has to go. Talk about a low bar! “We’ll let you get away with just about anything since you make us so much money, but just don’t destroy the firm.”

It sound like DLA Piper’s management read the ABA Journal’s “How to justify keeping harassers around when they make you a lot of money” guide. Guerrero says she reported the situation to Sang Kim, one of the leaders of DLA’s Northern California offices. He said that it sounded like a he-said, she-said situation, and she should “talk it out” with four senior partners, including the partner she accused. That’s a common dodge.

The kind of harassment she alleges is not the kind of behavior that is a secret, whether it occurs in a law firm in Hollywood, on a morning news show, on a TV production set or in an opera company, just to name some familiar locales. She says that the partner who recruited her had groped or kissed her on four occasions, and through her attorney’s supplemental filing with the EEOC, that the partner “regularly throws temper tantrums in and out of the office,” and no one at the law firm has reined him in.

In one incident,  Guerrero alleges that the partner invited her to his hotel room to discuss business, then he physically hugged and groped her. The partner also allegedly told Guerrero she needed to change how she dressed, and he bought her dresses and shoes for her without without asking her permission. The senior partner resumed his groping during a business trip to Brazil, and exploded in anger when Guerrero asked whether two male associates on the trip could be included when they were working or at dinner, the supplemental filing states. In Chicago, the partner allegedly said he couldn’t wait any more and insisted that they have an affair, Guerrero says. A fourth incident occurred at a party at the partner’s home.

This would constitute harassment as the creation of a hostile work environment even if the partner continued to treat the targeted junior partner well after being rejected. However, he retaliated, making it also a quid pro quo harassment case. Guerrero said she was excluded from work-related matters, accused of sub-par performance, and that the partner opposed her bonus.

An investigation awaits. I have been telling legal ethics classes all year that law firms are teeming with Harvey Weinsteins with law degrees, and it is only a matter of time before their proliferation is known. Maybe Vanina Guerrero is not a victim of a Harvey Esq., though I doubt it. Whether she is or not, a legal community reckoning is coming, and it’s about time.

[The title references this recent post...]

15 thoughts on “Never Mind, Ms. Guerrero: Hillary Clinton Says You Should Just “Get Over It”

  1. Hope she takes them to the cleaners and forces them into bankruptcy. The good ones will land on their feet, the rest can rot in their version of hell on earth, common poverty or prison.

    • She’ll be ground into a fine powder. Judges like big law firms. Many of them are from big law firms and the others wish they had been and look up to the lawyers in them. The big law firms support the bar associations and their efforts to enhance the image of the legal and judicial systems.

  2. Can I nominate a twitter thread between myself and Kara Swisher for unethical quote of the day? Or ethics dunce? You pick Jack 😉

  3. These things can be handled well. We had a major firm in my town, the top firm in our little Canada, merge with (takeover?) another firm in NYC in 2000. The name changed to include an NYC named partner such that the new name was 50/50 from the two merging firms. There was much press and huge expectations.

    At an early celebration of the merger in Toronto the NYC named partner was accused of sexually harassing several female lawyers while all were out drinking. After an investigation: Boom! NYC partner is turfed and his name is dropped. The firm stood tall and made the right choice. I think the effects resonated throughout the legal community here. Bad things still occur from time to time as people make stupid decisions, but it has been my (anecdotal) experience, in a big firm at least, that it is handled swiftly and appropriately. Not sure about some smaller firms though. Those are a different dynamic and I don’t have as much visibility.

    • Depends on the small firm and the level of the complainant. Junior associates without much juice are pretty much powerless, especially if the harasser is the main person at the firm. The downside of smaller offices is that the main person can pretty much treat everyone else like a serf, including ogling a shapely law clerk, telling a dirty joke in earshot of a secretary, or pinching a female associate’s backside. Usually big firms are more like corporations and actually have policies in place that mean something and will be enforced.

      BTW, the lawyers are not the only ones guilty of poor behavior. I worked in a firm once where a lot of the staff were, shall we say, urban in character (read: garbage). Once I overheard three of them openly discussing whether they had or would have sex for money. One of the more decent partners heard also, said this was a law office, not a sleazy bar, and told them to get back to work and stop talking like street corner whores. If the staff talk like that, they really don’t have a leg to stand on if someone else says something inappropriate. That said, it’s management’s job to set the tone and not let it get that low, and if you have to put a section entitled “Dress and Decorum” in the employee handbook everyone gets on their first day, then you need to do it.

  4. Jack, Jack, JACK!! Please stop! Two posts about Hillar in two days – with the latter one referencing the earlier one, even. Tsk-tsk! ENOUGH, already! You’re letting her play you, to her advantage. You are playing with a kind of fire for which the Republic is no longer fire-proof. Manufacturing relevance (of oneself, and one’s lies) is a BIG business of Hillar and her (un)kind, as the Congressional “D” party coup-plotters make ever more plain to see every new day.

    (I hope you recognize the above as just late-night silliness, with a salt-sprinkle of actual interest in ethics [and the Republic’s survival] – not actually scolding you.)

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