Monday, June 25, 2012

Office Politics: Did Earl Segal Participate in the Decision to Terminate My Employment?

I worked as a paralegal at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld from 1988 to 1991.  I worked in the paralegal program supervised by firm partner Earl L. Segal, Esq. from March 1988 to March 1990, when I was transferred to the Litigation Support Group.

My employment was terminated effective Tuesday October 29, 1991 a few days after I lodged a harassment complaint against my supervisor and other firm personnel.  In an interrogatory response filed by the firm with the D.C. Department of Human Rights dated May 22, 1992 the firm alleged that it had consulted with a psychiatrist who offered the opinion that my harassment complaint was the product of a psychiatric disorder called "ideas of reference" and that I might become violent.

The firm's decision to terminate was made apparently on Monday October 28, 1991.  The severance check was dated October 28, 1991.

I had earlier spoken with Earl L. Segal about instances of job harassment on October 23, 1991, and Mr. Segal memorialized our discussion in a memo.  But there is no direct evidence that Earl Segal participated in the termination decision or even agreed with it, though I assume he did.

An event occurred on the afternoon of Monday October 28, 1991 (the day the firm's termination decision was made) that I considered odd and of which I made a mental note.

Earl Segal, standing outside my temporary office on the firm's fourth floor, made a statement in a loud tone of voice.  He said: "Build it and he will come."  I took the statement as a reference to me.  I also believed that the statement, an apparent reference to the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, was a sexual double entendre -- a mocking reference to my belief that firm personnel used sexual double entendres to harass me.

Did Earl Segal show a hostility to me early in my employment at the firm?

  • I was hired by Akin Gump effective June 13, 1988.  Shortly thereafter, I was assigned to a private office on the firm's 5th floor.  In late June I worked late many evenings digesting deposition transcripts.  One evening I got on an elevator with a middle-aged gentleman I had never seen before.  (I did not learn the identity of Earl Segal until early December 1988).  As we were alone together on the elevator, traveling from the 5th floor to the lobby level, he accosted me in an intimidating way, in the manner of a buffoon.  With exaggerated inflection he said, "Isn't this fun?"  I said (confused): "Isn't what fun?"  He said: "This!"  I said, "What is "this?"  He said: "This!  Isn't this fun?"  I had no idea what he was talking about, who he was (he never introduced himself), or what motivated his behavior.  I experienced the interaction as hostile, intimidating and offensive. 
Did Earl Segal have a history of a use of puns and double meanings?  Yes he did.
  • I recall the farewell party for legal assistant Lilliam Machado in late June 1988 held in the small conference room on the firm's 5th floor.  Earl Segal was present.  Perhaps ice cream was served at the party.  In any event, I remember Earl Segal used the word "udderly" in place of the word "utterly" a simultaneous reference to cows and to the concept of completely and without qualification.
Did Earl Segal have a history of making snide remarks outside my office door?  Perhaps.
  • Some time after I sent out copies of my autobiographical sketch, I noticed a hubbub at Akin Gump, where I worked. I didn't make anything of it. But I noted it. One afternoon, I heard Earl L. Segal, Esq. -- the partner in charge of Akin Gump's paralegal program -- say in a loud tone of voice outside my office door to the tax attorney David Hardee, Esq., who occupied an office near me: "He's mentally unbalanced." At about the same time I happened to see firm partner David Callett, Esq. on New Hampshire Avenue, near Akin Gump's office; he looked at me with marked disdain. David Callett was a Penn State graduate (like Earl Segal and I) and was one of the senior partners for the client Eastern Airlines. I worked on a document production task for Eastern Airlines at that time, and I had introduced myself to David Callett in June 1988 when I was hired as an Akin Gump temporary employee.
Did Earl Segal have a history of acting out when he saw me?  Perhaps.
  • At 5:30 that afternoon, I was leaving the office for the weekend. I worked on the fifth floor at that time. I walked out into the elevator area, and I saw two people: Earl L. Segal, Esq. and the young associate, Amy Cohen, Esq. Earl Segal looked at me in the strangest way. It was a look of strong negative emotion. I believed the look was directed at me, but didn't know what the look meant.

    I got on the elevator to leave the building. Amy Cohen got on the elevator with me. The elevator door closed. Amy Cohen said to me: "I forgot my umbrella." (That tells me it was a rainy day.) Then she spurted out: "Are you stupid?" I replied: "I'm not the one who forgot his umbrella."

    I reasoned that Daniel Cutler had telephoned Maggie Sinnott or Earl Segal at Akin Gump about my job proposition. Earl Segal thought that I had acted stupidly. 
Was Earl Segal in some way hostile to me; did he see me as some kind of political pawn?  Perhaps.
  • In March 1990 I was employed as a paralegal at the D.C. law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.  I had started psychotherapy with the psychiatrist Stanley R. Palombo, M.D. in January 1990, about a month-and-a-half earlier.  In March the firm held a paralegal Happy Hour in one of the firm's conference rooms.  I attended the Happy Hour, which was held at the end of the work day.  When I entered the conference room, which was full of people, an odd thing happened.  Malcolm Lassman was standing at the back of the room.  Malcolm Lassman was a member of the firm's management committee who reported to the committee on issues concerning paralegals.  When he saw me enter the room, he started to beam at me.  It was the way my father would have looked at me at my bar mitzvah -- if I had had a bar mitzvah.  Then another odd thing happened.  Earl Segal, the partner in charge of the paralegal program at the firm, saw me and he looked blankly, then turned away.  Earl Segal reported to Lassman concerning issues about paralegals.  It was as if Segal and Lassman were at the racetrack and they had placed bets on different horses.  Lassman had the look of someone whose horse had won.  Segal looked like he had lost a bet.
Did Earl Segal have an unexplained enduring hostility to me? 

  • I recall that early on the afternoon of Friday August 7, 1998 I happened to see Earl Segal walking on P Street near Dupont Circle.  I was traveling from my first consult with Albert H. Taub, M.D., a psychiatrist, at the District's P Street Clinic.  Earl Segal sneered at me when he saw me.  What would provoke such a hostile response almost seven years after I had left Akin Gump? 


Gary Freedman said...

It was in March 1990 (at the time of the legal assistant happy hour) that I was transferred (or demoted) from the firm's legal assistant program to the litigation support group.

Earl Segal was the partner in charge of the legal assistant program.

Gary Freedman said...

The Loma Prieta earthquake, also known as the Quake of '89 and the World Series Earthquake, was a major earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay Area of California on October 17, 1989, at 5:04 pm local time.

On the morning of October 18, 1989 I was alone on an elevator with Earl Segal. It was raining that morning. Segal said to me words to the effect: "It's a miserable morning isn't it?"

I said: "Not as miserable as it is for the poor people in San Francisco."

It was manipulation. I wanted to appear caring and empathic with a firm partner. Like I really gave a damn about San Francisco!

Gary Freedman said...

Hahahaha! That's exactly 24 years ago today!! I have the suspicion something Freudian is going on here!