Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Akin Gump: Supervisor's Retaliatory Memo 10/25/91

I was employed as a paralegal at the DC law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld from March 1988 to late October 1991.  On October 23, 1991 I lodged a harassment complaint against my direct supervisor Christine Robertson with Earl L. Segal, Esq.  The following day, October 24, 1991 I lodged a harassment complaint against Robertson with attorney managers Dennis M. Race, Esq. and Malcolm Lassman, Esq.  On October 25, 1991 Robertson wrote the following memo to Race about my suitability for employment.  The memo is retaliatory; that is, it was written after and in reaction to my complaint of harassment against Robertson.

Upon my receipt of Akin Gump's interrogatory response in Freedman v. Akin, Gump, Hauer & Feld on December 23, 1992 (which included a copy of the memo as an exhibit), I wrote a detailed critique of the memorandum, which I sent to the Department of Human Rights.

Pleadings I filed in the D.C. court of appeals discuss the retaliatory memo.  The Court misread the pleadings I filed and incorrectly characterized the retaliatory memo as having been written in early 1991, thereby denuding the memo of any retaliatory animus.

In reading the memo the following facts should be kept in mind:

1.  The memo was written one day after I lodged a harassment complaint against Robertson;

2.  My personnel file, by the firm's own admission, contained no record of any oral or written reprimands;

3.  Behavior by other employees in the Litigation Support Department was unprofessional and disruptive;

4.  The memo states that my work product was "exemplary," yet at the termination meeting Dennis Race told me my work quality was poor;

5.  Robertson allegedly exhibited racial animus toward black employees under her supervision;

6.  Reportedly, after I was terminated and left the building's premises Robertson told her employees that she was afraid I might return to kill her and that she had arranged to have the office suite lock changed to guard against a homicidal assault she feared I might commit.  In fact, immediately after the termination meeting I met with Robertson who asked that I remain on the premises to complete the work I was engaged in that morning.  Robertson's action in telling her employees she feared I might kill her was knowingly defamatory, histrionic, and self-serving.

7.  Note the histrionic language in the retaliatory memo:

"extremely loud and volatile conversations"

"extremely stressed"

"He demanded absolute quiet"

"demands for quiet"

"bizarre behavior"

"extreme tension in the department"

"absolutely no interaction with other people"

8.  Note well: I never had a private office on the firm's ninth floor.  I worked continuously in a large group setting on the 9th floor from late October 1989 to April 5, 1991.  On April 8, 1991 I was moved to the Litigation Support Department on the firm's Terrace Level.  From mid-August 1991 to October 29, 1991 I worked temporarily in a private office on the 4th floor to complete a project for the client Hoechst-Celanese that required mental concentration.  When I started work on the project, coworker Katherine Harkness told me I would need quiet to work on Hoechst.  I told Harkness I would try working in the firm's library.  Harkness told me that even the library was too noisy.

The following is pages 369-370 of the record on appeal in Freedman v. D.C. Department of Human Rights, D.C.C.A. no. 96-CV-961 (Sept. 1, 1998).


TO:       Dennis Race
FROM: Chris Robertson
DATE:  October 25, 1991
RE:        Gary Freedman

While Gary's work continues to be exemplary, I am concerned about his interaction with other coworkers within the last few months.

For a while, after transferring to the Litigation Support Department from the Legal Assistant Department [March 1990], he was working on the ninth floor in an open, group setting with other legal assistants [from late October 1989 to April 1991].  He came to see me [in mid-August 1991] and asked me to move him to a more isolated area as he was concerned about practical jokes he claimed were being played on him.  He spoke of feeling harassed by the other legal assistants who did things like tear up paper and leave it on his desk, and putting letter openers in books, and when he opened up the book there was some reference to dying [refers to incidents in March 1991].  He was obviously distressed by this and so I arranged for him to have an office on the 9th floor by himself.  This worked well for a few months until it became obvious that he was slowing down the 9th floor network by accessing Litigation Support databases on the terrace level.

At this point, because of network traffic concerns, it became necessary for Gary to move to the Litigation Support Department on the Terrace Level [in April 1991].  I felt Gary had improved in his ability to interact with other staff members and that he might be ready to move into a group setting.  He appeared to be more personable and was starting to make jokes with other people and interact more positively.  However, after a month he began to be less tolerant of noise and office "chatter".  He would blurt out inappropriate remarks to other co-workers and sometimes even tell them to "shut up", although he denied this.  He would have extremely loud and volatile conversations on the telephone that were heard by everyone around him, with doctors and their office staff and appeared to be extremely stressed.  This concerned other co-workers who felt he might "go off" at any moment over the slightest thing.  He demanded absolute quiet and this naturally caused extreme tension in the department.  Some co-workers came to me and voiced their fear of his outbursts and were concerned it might lead to something more serious.  They also resented his, to them unreasonable, demands for quiet.

It became obvious to me that this situation was becoming intolerable for everyone and so I arranged for him to work in isolation once again on the fourth floor, where he began to review Toxic Tort materials for the Hoechst/Celanese

I am concerned on two levels.  The first is the effect his strange, sometimes even bizarre, behavior impacts on other personnel who are becoming afraid of him, and the second is that there are very few projects he can work on that require absolutely no interaction with other people.  This is obviously going to be an ongoing problem that I am not sure can ever be resolved satisfactorily.


Gary Freedman said...

On the evening of July 1, 1993 I spoke by telephone with a former Akin Gump coworker, Patricia McNeil. Summarized below are selected, material comments made by Pat McNeil. I supplied a copy of the tape recording of the phone call to the DC Corporation Counsel, the U.S. Secret Service, and the D.C. Police (Second District, Officer J.E. Williams, Badge 1226).

1. I thought you were a very professional person, a quiet person, who stayed to himself. I respected that. Some people are just not people-oriented.

2. I never thought you were a violent person.

3. [Noting that I posted therapists' appointment cards at my desk:] I heard people say, "He must be crazy, he's always going to a psychiatrist."

4. [Quoting comments by another coworker, Carletta Diggins, concerning my termination:] Carletta said, "I wonder what they did to Gary? Gary was such a nice person. He was really a quiet person. He didn't bother anyone." I told Carletta, "as good of a person as Gary is -- his work speaks for itself, it couldn't have been his work -- what did he do?" She said, "I don't know, Pat."

5. [States facetiously:] All of a sudden you became this crazy person. When you were hired you weren't crazy. When do you think you became crazy?

6. [Concerning Dennis Race's investigation of my allegation of harassment:] Dennis Race didn't question anybody in the Department. He never talked to me. If he did an investigation, wouldn't you think that he'd have talked to various ones in the Department? I don't know of anyone in the Department he talked to. Maybe he only talked to selected people Chris Robertson picked, Chris' favorites. [Note that Pat McNeil's conjecture suggests a violation by my supervisor, Chris Robertson, of D.C. Code sec. 1-2525(b), prohibiting the aiding or abetting of retaliation.]

7. All I know is that Chris said, "You all know that Gary is gone. And they're coming to change the locks, because we're afraid Gary may come back and he may try to kill me." I never pictured you to be a person who would do something like that.

8. Lutheria Harrison and Sherri Ann Patrick were promoted to paralegals. [Lutheria Harrison and Sherri Ann Patrick fit in the category of "Chris Robertson's favorites."]

Freedman v. D.C. Dept. of Human Rights, Record at 41.

Gary Freedman said...

Robertson writes: "He came to see me and asked me to move him to a more isolated area as he was concerned about practical jokes he claimed were being played on him. He spoke of feeling harassed by the other legal assistants who did things like tear up paper and leave it on his desk, and putting letter openers in books, and when he opened up the book there was some reference to dying. He was obviously distressed by this and so I arranged for him to have an office on the 9th floor by himself."

The harassing incidents Robertson describes took place in mid-March 1991. She did not move me to a private office on the 9th floor. In fact, on April 8, 1991, two weeks later, I was moved to the Litigation Support Department on the Terrace Level.

I provided the D.C. Dept. Human Rights the following statement of the events described by Robertson:

34. In mid-March 1991 two apparently related incidents, perpetrated anonymously, occurred on successive days. One morning, probably during the week of March 11, 1991, upon arriving at my desk on the ninth floor, I noticed that someone had taken a dagger shaped letter opener from a drawer in my desk and had positioned it with the blade inserted between the pages and had positioned it with of a bound volume of documents and with the handle protruding from the bound volume. The letter opener, positioned as it was, gave the impression of a symbolic stabbing. The next morning, upon arriving at the office, I observed that someone had strewn my desk with pieces of a paper napkin, which had been shredded into tiny bits. Also, on a piece of 8.5” x 11” paper placed on my desk, someone had written in bold, upper case letters the phrase, “WHITE TRASH.”

[The above incidents may be evidence of a form of harassment known as gaslighting. See paragraph 16, above.]

(The bound volume of documents in which the letter opener had been placed was a compilation of exhibits for litigation concerning a client, LL&E. The 8.5” x 11” piece of paper on which the phrase “WHITE TRASH” had been written was the reverse side of a computer printout relating to the client LL&E. At that time I was working on LL&E under the direction of Ms. Lutheria Harrison, a black employee assigned to the litigation support group. It is possible that some third party perpetrated the acts described above in an attempt to prompt me to complain to a supervisory employee or member of management, with the ultimate intent to make it appear that I harbored a racial animus against black employees. Such contrived “evidence” of a putative racial animus could then be used to counteract any allegations I might make that other employees’ harassing acts were motivated by anti-Semitism. That is, other employees could argue that my allegations of anti-Semitism were simply a projection of my own unacknowledged racial bias.)

[See paragraph 31, above.]

[On Friday March 15, 1991 I was scheduled to see a Jewish psychologist Steven Stein, Ph.D. who specialized in work with Holocaust survivors. Dr. Stein had been recommended by the firm's employee assistance provider, Sheppard Pratt. I had the belief that my treating mental health professionals divulged the content of my reports to the firm's senior managers and that supervisory employees attempted to manipulate the content of what I reported to the mental health professionals. See paragraph 31, above.]