For almost two years, I’ve been telling my ethics training attendees at bar associations and law firms that their profession has a serious sexual harassment problem, that there are many Harvey Weinstein, Esq,s out there, and the arrival of a major big law firm scandal or ten is inevitable.
Earlier this month, I wrote about the emerging sexual harassment controversy at DLA Piper, the largest law firm in the world. Vanina Guerrero, a junior partner at Piper, alleged that Louis Lehot, a notable “rainmaking” partner of long-standing who pursued her, groped her, and then retaliated when she rejected his advances. I wrote in part,
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.
There is now more information regarding this story. None of it proves that Lehot was a sexual harasser taking advantage of his power in the law firm to intimidate and abuse women for his own enjoyment, or that DLA Piper’s management enabled him by applying the King’s Pass, concomitantly creating a toxic culture at the firm, so everything still has to be followed by the magic qualifier, “alleged.” Still, the signs are ominous:
- A second woman has filed discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against DLA Piper and Lehot.
As we have discussed here before, single episode sexual harassers are rare. The appearance of second, third, and more victims once a sexual harassment complaint has been made public is the rule, if the first accusation has any merit.
The second alleged victim is seeking to remain anonymous, and is represented by Wigdor, the same law firm that represents Vanina Guerrero. The new claimant is a former human resources manager in the firm’s Palo Alto office. She says she was fired shortly after she complained that she and other female employees there were afraid to be in an office alone with Lehot, especially with the door closed. Through her lawyers, she is asking the EEOC to investigate her complaint in conjunction with Guerrero’s and to expand its investigation to create a class consisting of all female employees who worked in DLA Piper’s offices in Sacramento, San Francisco, and Palo Alto from 2016 through the present.
- The former manager says in the complaint that she reported the partner’s conduct creating a “hostile work environment,”but was told that “Louis is just Louis.”
If true, this is another classic “tell.” “That’s just the way he is” has been used to rationalize the abusive conduct of serial harassers for centuries. It is literally what Joe Biden’s defenders are using in 2019 to excuse his habitual groping, hugging and sniffing.
- Lehot said in a statement that he “did not assault or harass Vanina Guerrero and she knows it.” “I acknowledge poor judgment in developing an emotional relationship with Vanina Guerrero,” Lehot’s statement said. “I deeply regret the pain this has caused my family, colleagues, clients and friends.” I wonder what “developing an emotional relationship” is supposed to mean? If it means he made any romantic advances to a subordinate in the work place, that alone could constitute sexual harassment.
Yet the firm still let Lehot go “for various reasons,” saying that it was in the firm’s best interests, even though Guerrero’s “allegations have not been substantiated by the investigation to date.”
This makes no sense. It has been reported that Lehot brought an estimated 20 million dollars of business into the firm yearly. How would it be in the best interests of the firm to jettison him (undoubtedly with a rich severance deal) if the firm believed that the accusations against him had no merit? I think they know the allegations are true, and they were aware of the rainmaker’s proclivities for a very long time.
- That 20 million-a-year enrichment to his firm indeed gave Lehot the power to demand “The King’s Pass,” according to new allegations by Piper’s former ethics counsel Leah Christensen. She filed an Oct. 23 statement in support of the harassment allegations by Vanina Guerrero. Christensen says Lehot was a “textbook bully” who has “bulldozed his way through DLA Piper like a tank, rolling over anything or anyone in his way.” Christensen also says that Lehot acted as if the rules didn’t apply to him…and that’s “The King’s Pass” exactly, where high-level performers…
…in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head. In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others,
We shall see how this plays out. My guess is that we will discover that DLA Piper has developed a thoroughly corrupt firm culture that protected Lehot and created others in the firm like him.
Checking the EA archives, I found this 2013 post, about the firm recruiting a partner who had been fired from his previous firm for padding his billings to clients. I wrote,
Piper’s ethics cluelessness is even worse than you think. For the firm, at the time it hired [the lawyer], was already embroiled in a serious controversy over its own inflation of client fees to the tune of over a half-million dollars, in a lawsuit that included evidence of Piper lawyers discussing how to maximize charges (“Churn that bill, baby!” was the most sensational example.)…DLA Piper is the biggest law firm in the world. Such success and prominence often leads to arrogance, hubris and recklessness. And these, in turn, often lead to stupidity and disaster.