Thursday, December 22, 2011

Akin Gump Confirms Uncorroborated Admission by My Supervisor

In a letter dated December 28, 1992 that I wrote to the D.C. Department of Human Rights (DHR) concerning the unlawful termination complaint the agency had filed against my former employer, the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, I recounted an admission made by my Akin Gump supervisor, Chris Robertson, about the unprofessional and disruptive atmosphere in the litigation support department to which I was assigned.  In the days before my job termination on October 29, 1991 I had requested to be promoted to the Legal Assistant Program or moved to a private office.  The firm refused either request and, instead, fired me, and alleged to the DHR that I was pathologically hypersensitive to the goings-on in the litigation support department.

Here's what I wrote in my letter to the DHR dated December 28, 1992:

5.  April 8, 1991 - mid-August 1991: Terrace Level.  In mid-August 1991 I requested of my supervisor that she allow me to be moved to a private office and complained of the noise situation in the terrace level, and discussed certain harassing incidents that I had experienced while working on the 9th floor.  This was the only occasion during my employment that I requested of any supervisory employee that I be permitted to move to a private office.  (On this occasion, I also requested of my supervisor for the first and only time that she consider having me reassigned to the legal assistant group;  my supervisor did not get back to me regarding this request, and I concluded that it would be pointless to ask anyone other than Earl Segal, the partner in charge of the legal assistant program, for such a reassignment.)  She acknowledged that noise was a problem in the terrace level, but that she felt there was nothing she could do about the noise.  She said she even considered having all the employees’ private telephones removed to cut down on employees’ excessive use of telephones for nonbusiness purposes.  The meeting with my supervisor on this occasion in mid-August 1991 was called by her in response to a complaint by a fellow employee, Gregory Courtney, that I had told him to “shut up” earlier that morning.  I denied the accusation and explained that I had told Greg Courtney, who was having a loud conversation with another employee, Richard Taylor, to “hold it down.”  At that time I had just commenced work on the Hoechst project, which required a quietwork environment.  I did not interpret the meeting with my supervisor as a reprimand, nor was I advised that it was intended as such.  If anything, my supervisor seemed to find the incident amusing, and confided in me her difficulties in trying to control her other employees’ behavior (including their overuse of the telephone for personal telephone conversations) and her difficulties in hiring conscientious employees such as me.  (Also, this was the only interaction with a supervisor that even remotely resembled a reprimand.)  On no occasion did I ever tell another employee to “shut up;” on two occasions I politely asked a co-worker, Melissa Whitney, to turn down her radio, which she listened to without earphones.  It was Gregory Courtney’s intentional misrepresentation to my supervisor, which my supervisor communicated to me, that prompted my request on this occasion in mid-August 1991 to be moved or, in the alternative, to be reassigned to the legal assistant group.  The incident confirmed my suspicion that my co-workers on the terrace level had a propensity to act in an irrational and malicious manner.

Akin Gump's Answer dated March 25, 1993 (below) to a Title VII lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against the firm by a terminated African-American coworker in the Litigation Support Department confirms circumstantially that my supervisor, Robertson, in fact made the admission (see above) that I alleged.  

A word about the actors.

In Freedman v. Akin, Gump, Hauer & Feld, the firm stated that the three decisionmakers in my job termination effective October 29, 1991 were my direct supervisor, Chris Robertson; Personnel Director Laurel Digweed; and senior partner, Dennis M. Race, Esq.  The firm acknowledged that these three individuals cooperated in the termination decision.   It was Dennis Race who investigated my harassment complaint and prepared Akin Gump's responsive  pleadings filed with DHR on May 22, 1992.  It was Dennis Race who failed to acknowledge in those responsive pleadings that I had lodged a harassment complaint against Robertson in late October 1991.

In McNeil v. Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, plaintiff alleged that Robertson (an acknowledged  racist) colluded with Digweed in the termination of plaintiff on April 9, 1992.  Akin Gump denied the allegation of collusion between Robertson and Digweed and claimed that Robertson was not a decisionmaker in plaintiff's termination.  The U.S. District Court granted Akin Gump's summary judgment motion citing plaintiff's failure to prove that Robertson was involved in plaintiff's termination.  Dennis Race prepared Akin Gump's responsive pleadings filed with DHR in McNeil.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
______________________________________
PATRICIA A. MCNEIL
7893 Patriot Drive
Annandale, Virgina  22003

Plaintiff,

v.

AKIN, GUMP, STRAUSS, HAUER & FELD
1333 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C.  20036

Defendant.

CIVIL ACTION NO.
93-0477 JHG
______________________________________

ANSWER

Defendant, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, as and for its answer to the complaint, hereby states as follows:

1.  It is admitted that plaintiff seeks to bring this suit pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The remaining allegations in paragraph 1 are denied.

2.  It is admitted that plaintiff seeks to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court pursuant to 29 U.S.C. Section 626(c), but it is denied that jurisdiction exists under that section.

3.  It is admitted that venue in this District is appropriate.

4.  Defendant lacks information or knowledge sufficient to form a belief with respect to the current residence of plaintiff and, on that basis, that allegation is denied.  The remaining allegations of paragraph 4 are admitted.

5.  It is denied that defendant's principal offices are located in Washington, D.C.  The remaining allegations of paragraph 5 are admitted.

6.  The allegations of paragraph 6 are admitted,.

7.  It is admitted that written performance reviews were prepared concerning plaintiff's job performance.  Those performance reviews speak for themselves and, on that ground, the remaining allegations of paragraph 7 are denied.

8.  It is admitted that plaintiff was terminated by defendant on April 9, 1992 in part because she refused to meet with a member of management [Personnel Administrator Laurel Digweed, one of the three decisionmakers in my job termination].  The remaining allegations of paragraph 8 are denied.  [Akin Gump filed its Response to Interrogatories and Document Request with DHR in Freedman v. Akin, Gump, Hauer & Feld on May 22, 1992, which failed to acknowledge that I had lodged a harassment complaint against my direct supervisor, Robertson, in late October 1991].

9.  It is admitted that plaintiff had occasion to meet with a member of management [Digweed] prior to her refusal to meet with that same member of management.  The remaining allegations of paragraph 9 are denied.

10.  It is admitted that plaintiff had not been previously disciplined by defendant, although she had received verbal and written reprimands for excessive personal telephone use and lack of focus on her work.  The remaining allegations of paragraph 10 are denied.

11.  The allegations of paragraph 11 are denied.

12.  It is admitted that Ms. Robertson had a meeting with several black employees in or about July 1991.  The remaining allegations of paragraph 122 are denied.  [It is probable that Akin Gump knew of Title VII problems concerning Robertson at the time the firm terminated me on October 29, 1991.   Given that probable knowledge, the firm's failure to carefully scrutinize Robertson's written statements about me made in the days after my harassment complaint against Robertson and others was either knowingly wrong or negligent.]  [See Robinson v. Jacksonville Shipyards regarding an employer's use of the so-called Ostrich Defense in Title VII cases.]

13.  It is admitted that in or about March 1991 two black employees in the Litigation Support Group were terminated and were not thereafter offered reinstatement.  The remaining allegations in paragraph 13 are denied.

14.  It is admitted that in or about August 1991, Ms. Robertson became aware that plaintiff was pregnant with her second child.  The remaining allegations of paragraph 14 are denied.

15.  It is admitted that plaintiff's pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.  The remaining allegations of paragraph 15 are denied.

16.  It is admitted that on April 7, 1992, plaintiff's immediate supervisor, Ms. Robertson, received a complaint from Isabell Schotz, called plaintiff to her office and told her that plaintiff's excessive use of the telephone for personal business was disruptive to her coworkers.  The remaining allegations in paragraph 16 are denied.

17.  The allegations of paragraph 17 are denied.

18.  It is admitted that on April 9, 1992, Ms. Digweed met with plaintiff to discuss concerns raised by Ms. Schotz and Ms. Robertson.  It is also admitted that plaintiff vigorously defended her position, claimed Ms. Schotz was a "liar," and, ultimately, accused Ms. Digweed of using abusive language toward plaintiff and left Ms. Digweed's office.  The remaining allegations of paragraph 18 are denied.

19.  It is admitted that after the incident described in paragraph 18, Ms. Digweed asked plaintiff to come go her office to continue the discussion described in paragraph 18.  It is further admitted that plaintiff refused to go to Ms. Digweed's office and that, ultimately, plaintiff was terminated by Ms. Digweed.  The remaining allegations of paragraph 19 are denied.

20.  The allegations of paragraph 20 are denied.

21.  The defendant lacks information or knoweldge sufficient to form a belief with respect to the truth or falsity of the allegations contained in paragraph 21 and, on that basis, said allegations are denied.

22.  It is admitted that a right to sue letter was issued to plaintiff by the EEOC.  The defendant lacks information or knowledge sufficient to form a belief with respect to the truth or falsity of the remaining allegations of paragraph 22 and, on that basis, those allegations are denied.

23.  Except as otherwise expressly admitted herein, the allegations of paragraph 23 are denied.

24.  The allegations of paragraph 24 are denied.

FIRST AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE

The Complaint fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

SECOND AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE

Plaintiff's claim fails because facts which defendant has learned since plaintiff's termination would have justified her termination even earlier than it occurred.  [Note that Akin Gump pleads "after-acquired evidence" as an affirmative defense.  In Freedman v. D.C. Dept. Human Rights, Akin Gump foisted after-acquired evidence on the Court without identifying it as such, thereby misrepresenting to the D.C. Court of Appeals the precise evidence relied on by DHR, the agency below, in making its no probable cause finding.]

WHEREFORE, defendant prays that this Court:

1.  Dismiss plaintiff's complaint with prejudice, and

2.  Award Defendant its costs, including reasonable attorney's fees.

DATED: March 25, 1993

Respectfully submitted,

_______________________
Robert J. Higgins
D.C. Bar #155614
Joseph E. Kolick, Jr.
D.C. Bar #292979
DICKSTEIN, SHAPIRO & MORIN
2101 L Street, N.W.
Suite 80
Washington, D.C.  20037
(202) 785-9700

Counsel for the Defendant

CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE

I hereby certify that on this 25th day of March, 1993, I caused to be served, by first class mail, postage prepaid, a true and correct copy of the foregoing Answer upon James L. Kestell, Esquire, 1101 15th Street, N.W., Suite 1010, Washington, D.C.  20005.

______________________
Joseph E. Kolick, Jr.

2 comments:

Gary Freedman said...

Akin Gump did not depose me in McNeil about the work atmosphere in litigation support. I wonder why?!?!?!?

Gary Freedman said...

The Powers need to get from DHR the responsive pleadings Akin Gump (Dennis Race) filed in McNeil.

I'm fairly confident Dennis Race made inconsistent statements in Freedman and McNeil.