Here’s some juicy gossip about the case that everyone can’t stop talking about: Aaron Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell. Some of this information has previously appeared elsewhere, but this letter nicely synthesizes everything.
It’s long, so we’ll post it in two parts. Here’s the first installment:
While I’ve hesitated until now to write, your coverage of Aaron Charney’s lawsuit has been extremely entertaining, if often wildly inaccurate.
Like many current and former associates at S&C, I’m torn between my indifference towards Aaron (who was standoffish at best and somewhat obnoxious at worst) and my recognition of some genuinely negative aspects of the firm as portrayed in his complaint. But ultimately I have to come down on the side of the firm, because from where I sit Aaron’s story — while it may be peppered with, or “larded”, with some actual facts — doesn’t really paint a picture of discrimination or retaliation.
First of all, I think the idea of S&C being anti-gay as an institution is completely laughable. I’ve even heard fellow associates express concern that — all other things being equal — being straight is a liability when it comes to making partner. I’ve never heard a homophobic, racist or sexist comment, although I’ve heard rumors of a few. It’s rumored as well that Aaron himself made a homophobic comment or two in his more deeply closeted days. Who knows. Maybe I just inspire caution in this regard.
The letter continues after the jump.
We’ve placed material from the letter in block quotes, with our commentary below.
Our correspondent writes:
In fact, only a few of the folks on 28th floor I know knew — or even suspected — he was gay. Almost none of the more junior associates even knew who he was or that he worked on the floor, because he was simply never to be seen out from behind his or Gera Grinberg’s office door. Aaron’s office sat entirely empty for the better part of a YEAR at one point.
This does raise the question — not fully fleshed out in the existing papers — of whether and how Eric Krautheimer knew Aaron Charney is gay, when he knew it, and with what degree of certitude.
The letter continues:
Let’s talk “unnatural relationship” here. Nobody at S&C cares if you’re gay or straight. As I know from personal experience, the firm has a standard way of addressing intra-office romance — there’s a basic talk that goes like “well, we prefer that this sort of thing not happen, but since it has, best of luck to you both, and from now on you need to work on different matters, and it is especially inappropriate for [more senior lawyer] to supervise [more junior lawyer] in any way. Oh, and try not to rub anyone’s nose in it.” Basic common sense. No implication that anything is unnatural — as Aaron’s complaint outlines, the firm has long been tolerant of this sort of thing (unlike, say, Cravath).
So how was Aaron and Gera’s relationship “unnatural”? Without descending to calling Aaron “lazy” — which is an absurd word to describe even the least-hard-working associate at S&C — there are obvious and serious management issues presented by a midlevel associate who will go to great lengths to work exclusively with one senior associate and one partner. For instance, how do you compare his evaluation to others’, when he is being exclusively evaluated by the same people year after year, and everyone else is getting run through the gantlet of all the partners — harsh, kind and indifferent? How do you deal with someone who — as backed up by his perennial supervisors — is typically “too busy” to pitch in when big crunch situations roll around?
Goodness knows that had to be a cozy situation. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to start working with a new partner or a new associate. But no matter how nice this was for Aaron, Gera and Steve Kotran, it sucked for everyone else, and as far as I know, the partnership didn’t have a clear strategy for how to deal with this “unnatural” situation. They did know how to deal appropriately with a romantic relationship (gay or straight), but here the parties (probably quite accurately) denied any such relationship.
This has been covered before. But there’s more about Charney and Grinberg’s alleged standoffish-ness:
And then there’s the social aspect. S&C is not exactly a cozy feel-good firm, but there are a reasonable number of social events. Attendance is not mandatory, but is… encouraged. Aaron and Gera simply stopped attending these some time ago. Aaron and Gera never left their doors open, and they never informally socialized in the hall. To the extent they “socialized” it was with each other (only). Again, the firm does not have a traditional approach for dealing with such consistently anti-social behavior.
So what do we have? Here’s what I imagine happened: a bunch of very busy partners, who are also trying to get their own mountains of work done, behave in a variety of individual ways. Some just ignore the situation.
Some complain in person and in email to the other partners. Others take matters into their hands, and attempt to apply informal pressure on Aaron and Gera.
This next part is especially thought-provoking:
If (and this is a big if — after his performance so far I wouldn’t trust Aaron to tell me the time) Eric [Krautheimer] made the remarks attributed to him, or any similar remarks, my guess is that it would have been in the context of (a) presuming that Aaron was straight, and (b) attempting to use homophobia as a way of nudging him out of Gera’s orbit.
Gender based harassment? Attenuated, but there’s a colorable argument.
A sign of raging homophobia at S&C? Hardly.
Very interesting; we hadn’t thought of the interaction in this way before.
And the remarks about an “unnatural” relationship — brought into this context, they make perfect (non-homophobic) sense. THEY HAD AN UNNATURAL RELATIONSHIP, just not in the sexual sense. The firm would have had a much easier time dealing with the situation if they’d actually been wildly fornicating behind those office doors.
Oh, and if you think that Alexandra Korry is the kind of shy, blushing girl who would use “unnatural” to mean “taking it up the ass,” well, you haven’t been reading the comments very carefully.
That last sentence is especially perceptive. Based on what we’ve heard about her, Korry doesn’t seem like one to traffic in euphemism.
Update: The rest of the letter, in which our source discusses Charney’s claims of retaliation, can be accessed by clicking here.
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Brokeback Lawfirm (scroll down)