Howrey LLP, Minority Issues, Racism

Ex-Howrey Associate Alleges Racial Discrimination, Wants $30 Million — Mule Soon to Follow

Howrey logo.JPGThe Great Recession just wouldn’t be as fun without the occasional employment discrimination lawsuit. The Blog of the Legal Times reports that Howrey is getting slapped with a discrimination lawsuit from one of its former associates who — surprise — hasn’t been able to find employment since the firm let her go:

Kamisha Menns, a black woman born in Jamaica, says in the complaint, filed in D.C. Superior Court today, that Howrey violated the D.C. Human Rights Act by retaliating against her, creating a hostile work environment, and inflicting emotional distress, both intentionally and negligently. Menns has asked for $30 million.

You’d expect a major D.C. firm like Howrey to be very politically correct. Aside from the occasional Obama joke (it’s racist to joke about Obama — j/k — or am I?), I wasn’t sure what form this alleged discrimination would take.
Alas, it appears that Menns’s troubles started in Brussels. That’s a shocker! Given how wonderfully the Belgians managed their colonial empire in Congo and Rwanda, I can’t imagine that anything could possibly go wrong for a young black woman in that country….

The Blog of the Legal Times reports that Menns found herself cut off from good work while in Brussels:

At some point after moving to Brussels, Menns says in her complaint, she began being removed from projects despite receiving compliments on her work from several partners. She says her workplace was shifted to a different floor from that of other lawyers. When she reached out to the office’s managing partner, Trevor Soames, the complaint alleges, Menns was told “that because she was an ‘impressive woman’ Ms. Menns made Howrey’s white employees feel uncomfortable.” The complaint alleges that Soames also told her that because she was the first black associate to work in the office, the office staff’s treatment of her might be influenced by the fact that “they had never before been forced to be in a ‘subordinate position’ to a black person.”

These allegations might not be as headline-grabbing as some of the other crazy lawsuits that come across my desk. But, if true, I cannot imagine how enraged I’d be if a staffer had a problem with me because they’d never been “forced” to work for a black person. What, you can’t make a copy because you’re afraid you’ll get some black on you? Screw that. I’d turn that work environment “hostile” in a Belgian minute. (Belgian minute = time it takes to make a waffle.)
Back in D.C., Howrey allegedly did not find Menns’s complaints persuasive:

The complaint goes on to allege that the situation only got worse when she reached out to firm leaders, including the Washington-based diversity committee and CEO Robert Ruyak. In a June 2, 2009, meeting, a day after Menns sent an e-mail to Ruyak and eight members of the diversity committee outlining the allegedly discriminatory treatment, Menns was fired.

She got fired in June 2009? Not surprisingly, she hasn’t been able to find work since being let go.
Howrey didn’t comment on the specific allegations, but the firm did tell the Blog of the Legal Times that it does well on diversity lists:

In a statement, Howrey said, “Personnel issues are always confidential and we will have no comment on this particular matter. As a matter of record, it should be noted that Howrey has been a leader among law firms in the area of diversity. For the last several years, Howrey has been recognized as such by among others, the Minority Law Journal’s 2009 ‘Diversity Scorecard,’ an annual survey which ranked Howrey 13th nationally among the top 200 grossing law firms in the US and was the recipient of Managing Intellectual Property’s Annual Award for Diversity.”

Honest question: Can somebody please explain to me what scoring highly on a “diversity scorecard” has to do with whether or not you committed employment discrimination in a particular case? Is Howrey’s statement here anything more than a law firm’s way of saying “we can’t be racist, we have lots of black friends”? Getting an “award for diversity” is nice and all (though I imagine the award wasn’t given to Howrey’s “you’re not the boss of me” Brussels office). But I fail to see how a diversity award is germane, at all, to the issue of whether or not Howrey discriminated against this woman.
Obviously, we’ve heard only one side of the story, and I’m reserving judgment until we hear something from Howrey’s perspective. But, as a matter of record, I would note that evidence of Howrey’s diversity ranking is immaterial to the matter at hand.
Howrey Slapped With $30M Racial Discrimination Suit [The BLT: Blog of the Legal Times]

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