Allen & Overy, Biglaw, Jews, Labor / Employment, Religion

Schoenfeld v. Allen & Oy-vey-ry: A&O’s Answer
(Plus more about Mark Wojciechowski)

Norman Schoenfeld Allen Overy LLP Above the Law blog.jpgThe Magic Circle law firm of Allen & Overy, defendant in Schoenfeld v. Allen & Overy, has just filed its Answer (PDF). They’re hoping to make Norman Schoenfeld’s claims disappear. Schoenfeld, an observant Jewish lawyer who once worked at the firm, alleges that A&O discriminated and retaliated against him as a result of his observing the Sabbath.
We contacted the firm for comment. Here is their statement:

Allen & Overy denies all allegations of discrimination. This person’s employment was terminated based solely on performance within his orientation period, a trial period of time mandated for all employees. He also failed to disclose to Allen & Overy the fact of his previous employment at another law firm.

Our firm has a strict written policy prohibiting any form of discrimination, and we provide all new employees and partners training in both diversity awareness and harassment prevention. Over the past several years, we have also instituted live diversity training for all of our existing attorneys and managers. We will vigorously defend our proud reputation of diversity and inclusion and are confident of a positive outcome for Allen & Overy with respect to these allegations.

More discussion, including interesting information from tipsters, after the jump.
Update (5/9/08): The case is settling. See here.

You can read A&O’s Answer by clicking here (PDF). If you’d like to read it side-by-side with the Complaint, you can pull up Norman Schoenfeld’s complaint by clicking here (PDF).
Here is one tipster’s take on the Answer:

There is no substance to the reply. Interesting that it doesn’t mention Woj’s name [the Answer repeatedly refers to him as “the individual named in paragraph X”].

Sounds like they are trying to keep it low profile. That may be a good sign for Schoenfeld.

Here are our random observations about the Answer:

1. A&O has retained Jackson Lewis, which describes itself as “a national workplace law firm.” Like Sullivan & Cromwell in the Aaron Charney case, which hired Zachary Fasman of Paul Hastings, they’re going with specialists (probably a wise move).

2. Unlike S&C, which was represented by a small army of lawyers, A&O appears to have a tiny team. Only two lawyers’ names appear on the Answer (both of them Emory Law grads, coincidentally): Todd Girshon, Emory ’93, who made partner in 2002; and associate Ravindra Shaw, Emory ’05, who is fabulously named (like a character in a novel).

3. The Answer is heavy on the use of scare quotes, especially in the headings (e.g., As To The “Parties”). It’s annoying, but lawyerly.

4. Paragraph 12: We’ve learned that the unidentified “NYC Firm” where Schoenfeld did a brief stint is Schulte, Roth & Zabel.

5. Like our tipster, we note the repeated refusal to name Mark Wojciechowski. He’s consistently referred to as “the individual named in paragraph X.” Sure, “Wojciechowski” is a mouthful, and typing it out might cause your computer to crash. But the “individual named in paragraph X” formulation sure is awkward, in an “artist formerly known as Prince” sort of way. And it may just call more attention to MW in the end.

6. Paragraph 18: note A&O’s denial of Schoenfeld’s claim that his performance was “good.”

One source at A&O feels the lawsuit is meritless:

This whole business about the shabbos thing is crazy. A&O has two managing partners who are both Jewish. There are lots of observant associates in the banking group [where Schoenfeld worked], and observant associates in the firm [as a whole], especially in the real estate group. This is just crazy.

Another tipster agrees that A&O has no problem with Jewish attorneys, but objects to the whole “A&O has lotsa matzoh” defense:

I’m a Sabbath observant associate at A&O and never encountered any problem at the firm. I am offended, though, by the firm putting observant attorneys up for display and having them comment about how accommodating the firm is….

Using us as props is deplorable behavior, and if the same was done with members of another race or orientation, there would be outrage. As lawyers we all know that the firms treatment of other observant Jews is irrelevant to the case. Unfortunately, I can only imagine that Wojciechowski and the firm’s handling of this must have been out of line for them to adopt such a demeaning and non-respectful strategy to deflect the allegations made in the complaint.

Lawyers know there are two (or more) sides to every story. Here are Zagat-style blurbs from sources who have worked with Mark Wojciechowski, offering both criticism and praise:

“Mark is a great guy. Very senior partner. He has a substantial book of business. He’s used to associates working with him to do things very well and without a lot of direction. He’s a perfect gentleman. He’s very soft-spoken; I’ve never heard him raise his voice. He’s quiet, he keeps to himself.”

“Believe me, Wojciechowski is a total jerk. This is an interesting side note, though. The complaint says that Wojciechowski offered Schoenfeld a job at Mayer Brown, withdrew it, and while still a partner at Mayer Brown offered him a job instead at Allen and Overy. Things were not pretty when he left Mayer Brown, and some partners at Mayer Brown think [he may have] violated Mayer Brown’s partnership agreement….

“We work for law firms. Weekends get ruined sometimes. Mark is enough of a gentleman to apologize if he disrupts your weekend. He’ll then come by your office on Monday to thank you for your hard work.”

“He’s like a lot of senior partners. He is used to getting the best associates assigned to him. He doesn’t have a lot of patience for b.s. and small talk. Mark isn’t a back-slapper who will shoot the breeze with you forever. He’s direct, to the point….”

“He leaves you alone, he doesn’t micromanage, he’ll listen to your suggestions and input. He’s totally willing to take input from associates.”

And a collection of divergent opinions about Norman Schoenfeld, from people who have worked with him:

“He’s a disaster [in terms of work product]. He’s a nice guy. But people want things done right. Norman thought that if he didn’t think something should matter, it shouldn’t matter.”

“I worked with Schoenfeld. Shocked by this suit. He’s a good guy and a good lawyer. I’m sure everyone who knows him hopes A&O pays big-time.”

“Norman has a sense of entitlement. He just comes in like he should be king… Everything he could do was below him, and everything he wanted to do, he couldn’t do right.”

Discovery is sure to be interesting, especially given the number of law firms that could potentially get dragged into the mess. In addition to Allen & Overy, there’s Woj’s former firm of Mayer Brown, and Norman Schoenfeld’s former firms of Andrews Kurth and Schulte Roth & Zabel (the unidentified “NYC Firm”).
Stay tuned. If you have firsthand info to share, please email us. Thanks.
Update (5/9/08): The case is settling. See here.
Answer: Norman Schoenfeld v. Allen & Overy (PDF)
Complaint: Norman Schoenfeld v. Allen & Overy (PDF)

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