Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

Legal Secretary of the Day: Not Getting Fired Leads to Getting Fired

Nancy Topolski must have been happy initially to survive the layoffs in the Portland office of Davis Wright Tremaine. But with fewer secretaries to go around, her workload increased. To the point of causing stress-induced panic attacks.

If you’re not making a lawyer’s salary, that’s just not acceptable. After one of her panic attacks, she went to HR and asked for a lighter workload. From the National Law Journal:

Topolski informed her supervisor several times in late September and October that her increased workload was causing her stress, affecting her ability to sleep and causing her to make mistakes. On Oct. 21, Topolski suffered a panic attack while at work and told a human resources representative that she needed a lighter workload, which the representative indicated would happen, according to the complaint. However, no changes were made and Topolski suffered a second panic attack at work on Nov. 3, the suit says.

At that point they did accommodate her — by firing her. Now she’s suing the firm for $1 million….

Topolski is suing for wrongful termination and violation of Oregon’s family leave act and the state’s disability and discrimination and retaliation laws. She filed her lawsuit last month in Oregon state court, though Davis Wright is trying to get it moved to federal court.

She had not actually been in Biglaw very long, having joined the firm in the heady days of 2007:

Topolski was hired as a legal secretary in the firm’s Portland office in 2007, according to the complaint, and provided full-time support for three attorneys. The firm laid off “a significant number” of employees including 11 secretaries in the early fall 2009, and Topolski then became responsible for supporting a fourth attorney — Greg Chaimov.

“Mr. Chaimov had a tendency to wait until the last minute to give assignments to Plaintiff, which ended up causing projects to be rushed and completed to standards lower than Plaintiff desired,” the suit reads.

If last-minute assignments cause you panic attacks, maybe you shouldn’t be working at a law firm in the first place.

Claiming Panic Attacks From Workload, Legal Secretary Sues Firm Over Firing [National Law Journal via ABA Journal]

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