Former DLA Piper associate Charlene Morisseau isn’t just our Lawyer of the Day. This high-powered litigatrix — a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and a former editor of the Harvard Law Review — should be hailed as a heroine by Biglaw associates everywhere.
From a most engaging article by Anthony Lin, in the New York Law Journal:
A Manhattan federal judge has thrown out a race discrimination suit brought against DLA Piper by a former associate who claimed the firm’s New York office was a hostile work environment.
Charlene Morisseau, a 2001 graduate of Harvard Law School, where she was a law review editor, joined DLA Piper as a litigation associate in April 2003 but was asked to leave less than a year later. In a lawsuit filed last year, Ms. Morisseau, who is black, claimed her firing was retaliation for complaints she had made about discriminatory treatment.
She requested almost $250 million in damages from the firm and the 11 partners she individually named in the suit.
Now, we’re all in favor of giving associates more money. But $250 million may be a bit much, even for a Harvard Law grad. It’s about 90 percent of DLA Piper’s total firm profits for 2006 ($280 million).
But it looks like Morisseau won’t be seeing a dime:
Southern District Judge Lewis Kaplan granted summary judgment to the firm Monday, finding that DLA Piper had put forth a “legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for plaintiff’s termination.”
“Here, the uncontradicted evidence demonstrates that plaintiff did not perform in a manner satisfactory to Piper notwithstanding her academic credentials,” the judge wrote. “She was a confrontational, stubborn, and insubordinate employee in an environment in which professional personal relations, flexibility and a willingness to accept supervision were essential.”
Now we’ve reached the good part. Here’s why Charlene Morisseau should be every associate’s idol:
[I]n court filings, DLA Piper denied treating Ms. Morisseau differently and said the firm had taken action because the ex-associate had exhibited a pattern of unacceptable behavior, including yelling at partners and throwing one out of her office.
The firm said Ms. Morisseau ordered former partner Marilla Ochis to “back up” out of her office after Ms. Ochis had come to discuss an e-mail exchange Ms. Morisseau had apparently taken offense to.
Have you ever fantasized about telling off your partner oppressors? Well, Charlene Morisseau has lived your dream — and then some.
Read the rest, after the jump.
Despite being a mere associate, Morisseau was positively diva-licious, according to DLA Piper’s allegations in defending the suit:
According to the firm, Ms. Morisseau initially refused an assignment relating to the Victim Compensation Fund by [DLA Piper partner Douglas] Rappaport and later raised her voice at him in a hallway confrontation over that assignment.
Ms. Morisseau was also allegedly rude to partner Heidi Levine, her designated mentor. In one instance, the firm said, Ms. Morisseau did not respond to a hello by Ms. Levine and, when the partner began to ask a question, the associate put her hand up in a stopping motion and said, “Heidi, goodbye.”
Talk to the hand! Quips a tipster: “She sounds like a cast member from Boston Legal.”
But don’t think Charlene Morisseau — who was a year ahead of us in college, and something of a campus rabble-rouser back then — lashes out only at Biglaw partners. Stephen Bright, described by another tipster as the “saintly death penalty lawyer,” has also felt her wrath. He’s another former employer who’s being sued by Morisseau:
After graduating from Harvard Law, Ms. Morisseau initially worked for the Southern Center for Human Rights, the group led by well-known death penalty appellate lawyer Stephen B. Bright.
In an affidavit Mr. Bright submitted for Ms. Morisseau’s New York bar application, he said she “appears unable to separate reality and fantasy” and detailed “vicious attacks” and “false allegations of outrageous conduct” she had made against many of the Center’s lawyers and staff, all while “making virtually no contribution to the Center’s work in the eight months she was here.”
“All this reflects very poorly on the professional qualifications of Morisseau to practice law,” Mr. Bright wrote in his September 2004 affidavit. The Southern Center is also seeking summary judgment against Ms. Morisseau.
Ah, so that’s why they ask for affidavits from former employers when deciding whether to admit you to the bar. Surely the concept of “character and fitness” embraces the ability “to separate reality and fantasy.”
We wonder how Charlene Morisseau won admission, after a prominent member of the bar described her as Steve Bright did. But we’re glad that she got admitted. The legal profession is all the richer and more colorful for her outsized presence.
‘Legitimate’ Reasons for Firing, Judge Finds In Rejecting Race Bias Suit Against DLA Piper [New York Law Journal]