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...]