Biglaw, Labor / Employment, Lawsuit of the Day, Minority Issues, Rudeness, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Sex, Sex Scandals

Nelson v. Jones Day: Another Side to the Story

Earlier this week, we brought you the story of Nelson v. Jones Day — a discrimination lawsuit filed against Jones Day by Jaki Nelson, an African-American woman who worked at JD for almost 18 years. Some of the allegations in Nelson’s complaint — use of racial slurs by firm partners and administrators, sex scandals, and rampant bullying — were salacious and incendiary. If you haven’t already done so, read more about them in our earlier post.

As litigators well know, however, there are two (or more) sides to every story. And this lawsuit is no exception.

(We’re reminded of Aaron Charney’s lawsuit against Sullivan & Cromwell, alleging anti-gay discrimination. Based on the same reporting, some viewed that lawsuit as Philadelphia: The Sequel, while others saw it as an oversensitive and entitled associate suing a firm with no anti-gay bias — and numerous gay partners and associates.)

After we published our post, sources came forward to defend Jones Day and the lawyers mentioned in the complaint — and to dish dirt on the plaintiff, Jaki Nelson….

In the comments to our post, a number of readers expressed skepticism towards Nelson’s claims. Some of them evinced a fairly general skepticism towards discrimination claims brought by disgruntled ex-employees like Nelson (who was laid off in June of this year).

But others reflected specific knowledge of Jones Day — like this one:

I know all these people. They may be wacky, but they’re not racists, and they don’t deserve this. At least one of the partners she listed is the nicest guy ever. As for Nelson, she’s no saint — I seem to recall her spending much of her time gossiping and looking to start trouble (generic trouble, not discrimination complaints). Not the person you want on your desk.

In addition to the comments, we also heard from knowledgeable sources via other channels. One former Jones Day employee emailed us to express these opinions:

Although I liked Jaki personally, I always felt her work ethic, work product and attitude were unacceptable and could not understand how she got away with her incompetence.

For the record, I am a minority, but when it came to minority employees, JD was always afraid to deal with them in the appropriate manner…. sweeping the problems under the rug. Time and time again I saw people like Jaki get away with murder because JD was afraid of the minority lawsuits.

And given Nelson’s inflammatory allegations, one can understand why the firm might be afraid. But are the allegations true? The ex-JD employee thinks not:

One of her allegations that upset me most was her comments about Jim Childs. I have worked [very closely with Childs over many years, and] he never once spoke to me in that fashion, and I never heard him speak in that manner to anyone at JD or others outside of the firm. To the contrary, he doesn’t like confrontation, especially with employees.

In addition, I have worked personally with some of the other attorneys discussed in her complaint and had wonderful working relationships with them. I am quite certain that most of their frustrations were due to her incompetence.

Maybe Jaki Nelson was just distracted by other pursuits. According to this tipster:

[W]hen I was at JD, she monitored an Ebay business from the office, which really frustrated some of us….

And what about her claims of intra-office affairs, and sex scandals?

Yes, it is true that affairs happened at JD, but I am sure it isn’t any different at any other law firm. Not that I agree with them, but they have nothing to do with Jaki’s incompetence, unacceptable performance and race. She/her lawyers are just stirring the pot.

You know what they say, sooner or later the “chickens come home to roost” and I believe management’s refusal to deal with Jaki 15 years ago has caused this problem.

JD’s biggest problem? Its tolerance for mediocre employees and not always fairly compensating those that work very, very hard.

That’s an interesting point — and, for the record, a familiar complaint about Jones Day. A former JD partner once told me that, when he was a partner at the firm, he didn’t make that much, at least by Biglaw partner standards — maybe around $400K (note that this was a number of years ago). At his new firm, he makes several times as much. He has no regrets about leaving Jones Day (and thinks he probably should have left sooner).

We’ll continue to follow this story with interest. If you can provide another side of the story — and we want to hear all sides of the story, since we have no dog in this fight — please email us. Thanks.

P.S. This request for all sides of the story applies to everything we cover. Sometimes readers complain that a particular post failed to capture all sides of a given story. To the extent that this happens, it’s because readers failed to come forward and tell us the other side of the story.

We aren’t psychic; we can’t report on matters that you don’t tell us about. So please email us and/or text us, early and often.

UPDATE (7/25/2011): Jaki Nelson’s case, making allegations that Jones Day describes as “baseless and inflammatory,” has been dismissed.

Earlier: Lawsuit of the Day: Ex-Jones Day Secretary Alleges Racial Slurs, Sex Scandals, and More

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