As we reported earlier today, Aaron Charney, an openly gay associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, is suing his firm for discrimination and retaliation. He filed his Complaint (PDF) in New York Supreme Court this morning. He alleges, among other things, that S&C partner Eric Krautheimer threw a document at his feet and told him to “bend over and pick it up — I’m sure you like that.”
Earlier this afternoon, we reached out to both Aaron Charney and a Sullivan & Cromwell spokesperson, by email. We haven’t heard back from S&C; but Charney did give us a call.
We interviewed Mr. Charney about his lawsuit against Sullivan & Cromwell, his continued employment at the firm, and related matters. He struck us as intelligent, earnest, fair-minded, and thoughtful. Also, he has a very nice speaking voice.
A summary of our interview with Aaron Charney appears after the jump.
We didn’t tape record the interview, and our note-taking wasn’t perfect. So we may subsequently correct or modify what appears below if it comes to our attention that we erred.
We first confirmed with Charney that he remains at Sullivan & Cromwell, in its legendary corporate department. He’s still there. We asked him how his work at the firm is going.
“It’s going okay, from a work perspective. I’m continuing to work on big deals.”
“Obviously the last year has been tough for me. I’ve been dealing with some people who have done terrible things, and I’ve been having to deal with the stress of that in addition to my work.”
We asked Charney if he is looking for employment elsewhere. He said that he is not; he has been preoccupied with the lawsuit.
We explored Charney’s motivation for filing suit.
“I’m doing what I can to shine light on a serious problem. I’m trying to be brave and stand up for what’s right.”
We confirmed that he’s representing himself in the lawsuit (i.e., proceeding pro se). We asked if he considered retaining counsel, and he said that he did. But then he added:
“There are many impediments that make other lawyers unwilling to take a case like this. Many attorneys are afraid of picking a public fight with S&C.”
“Some lawyers I spoke with wanted to resolve this dispute non-publicly and behind the scenes, instead of taking the opportunity to draw attention to an important problem. But I wanted it to be handled in a way that drew attention to the issue.”
We asked whether Charney has previously worked on matters relating to workplace discrimination against gays. He said that he hasn’t — that he’s not an activist in this area.
“I’m just an average person. I wouldn’t call myself on the forefront of these issues.”
“Sometimes events find you, and you have to make a choice. People in positions of power and authority shouldn’t be able to stamp out other people based on their sexual orientation, their national origin, or any other such characteristic.”
Playing devil’s advocate, we asked Charney whether the treatment he claims to have suffered at Sullivan & Cromwell couldn’t just be considered the standard “hazing” that young associates go through at big law firms. After all, working for Biglaw isn’t a walk in the park.
“Everyone know that there are partners at big law firms that can be difficult to work for. But there are things that cross the line.”
“Sometimes there can be a fine line [between the proper and improper]. But in my case that line was crossed a long time ago.”