Biglaw, Canada, Harvard, Labor / Employment, Pepper Hamilton, Rudeness, Sex Scandals, Sexism, Sexual Harassment

Aggrieved Women Potpourri: Sexual Harassment Canada-Style, and the Return of Charlene Morisseau

Jaime Laskis

I’m not trying to compare the claims of Jaime Laskis, a former associate at the prominent Canadian law firm of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, with those of Charlene Morisseau (a legendary Lawyer of the Day honoree, from 2007). But we’ve got two stories vaguely related to alleged employee harassment and discrimination in the legal profession, and I wanted to click them both off so I have something to change the subject with when Sweet Hot Justice asks me if she’s a cougar when we meet for drinks tonight.

Let’s start with Jaime Laskis’s story, which is a bit more newsy. Laskis was an associate in the New York office of Toronto-based Osler, who claims she suffered various forms of sexual harassment while she worked there. One partner allegedly said that Harvard University was full of “pretty women pretending to get an education.”

I know, I know, that’s sounds like a man who has never been to a Harvard party. But Laskis makes other allegations….

The Toronto Star has a full report on Laskis’s claims against the Olser firm (including a link to the complaint):

According to allegations filed in court, a senior partner at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt made an oral sex joke about a female client, said Harvard University was filled with pretty women “pretending to get a legal education,” and once said he hated working with female lawyers because they get pregnant and leave.

The lawyer also alleges the partner told her she “must be more than a pretty face” and was “not helping herself by coming to work looking well put together.”

That’s it?

At the risk of scraping my knuckles against the pavement, I’m a little underwhelmed by the grave hostility brought about by an oral sex joke. I mean, sure, the guy probably needs to stop judging the attractiveness of Harvard women based on The Social Network. But in the grand scheme of things, these allegations leave me with a feeling of “meh.”

Or am I missing something much more sinister here?

After her 2009 review Laskis said she was told her salary, which had been frozen, would be raised to only $220,000 a year. She claims she should have been making $250,000 according to Osler salary rules for her level.

In June 2009, Laskis was fired. Her lawsuit alleges she was fired in retaliation for complaining about the firm.

Laskis alleges she tried to get a job at another New York firm but a senior Osler partner, during a lunch with that firm’s managing partner, said Laskis would be a bad hire.

In the end, Laskis’s job search turned out fine: she landed at Pepper Hamilton, where she is now an associate. Incidentally, as a tipster notes, Pepper Hamilton’s New York office — in the Times building, at 620 Eighth Avenue — is one floor above Osler’s. That might make for awkward elevator interactions.

I guess Laskis’s salary stagnation and eventual layoff from Osler could have been in retaliation for her complaints. But maybe they could also be attributed to the fact that it was 2009 and everybody was getting [potentially harassing reference to lovemaking] with their [potentially male-normative reference to an article of clothing] on.

The year 2009 was rough on a lot of people. And obviously Laskis feels she was mistreated:

“It’s a horrible situation,” Laskis said Monday. “It has been a really difficult process. I’m not this kind of person. I’m not a troublemaker. I’m not even a loud voice. I just keep my head down and do my job.”

[Resist… voices… “head down”… “I’m not that kind of girl”… jokes overwhelming brain circuitry.]

I’m not an employment lawyer, but it seems to me that to prevail on a sexual harassment claim arising out of a legal layoff in 2009, you’re going to need a little more fire than a few wisecracks about working women.

Charlene Morisseau

Really, you’re going to need to bring it like Charlene Morisseau. Morisseau was a Harvard-trained lawyer (undergrad and law school), who was fired from DLA Piper back during the post-9/11 recession. She then hit the firm with a racial discrimination suit, seeking a whopping $250 million in damages.

Sure, she lost her case — but at least she was in there doing more than being quietly offended every time somebody talked about a blow job. Instead, she was allegedly refusing assignments, yelling at partners, ignoring their greetings, and ordering them out of her office when they dropped by — before turning it around on them and alleging racial discrimination, natch.

Morisseau popped up on our radar screen recently, because according to a report in the New York Law Journal (subscription), she’s been banned from appearing in the Southern District of New York:

A former DLA Piper associate already suspended in state court has been precluded from appearing in the Southern District for her “hate-filled public attacks” against a judge and lawyers. Charlene Morisseau claimed a “Jewish” bias against her by Southern District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan and several lawyers at DLA Piper. She had sued DLA Piper twice, alleging she was fired from the firm in 2004 because she is black. Both cases were ultimately dismissed by Judge Kaplan. A suit brought by Ms. Morisseau against ALM, the parent company of the Law Journal, also was dismissed.

In a 28-page opinion signed Feb. 7 by Judge Jed S. Rakoff, the Southern District’s Committee on Grievances said that Ms. Morisseau’s “persistent disregard of court orders and filing of baseless and duplicative motions” also violated the Disciplinary Rules and Rules of Professional Conduct. It said the “egregious circumstances of the case” warranted keeping her from appearing in court, a preclusion that “has no time limit.”

I am once again delighted to prove that I’m not even in the top ten percent of people Harvard University should be embarrassed it admitted.

Well, I just hope everybody was workplace-appropriate yesterday, on Valentine’s Day. Lord knows I kept it in my pants all day at work yesterday. You know, just doing my part to prevent the sexual harassment.

Woman alleges sexual discrimination in lawsuit against Toronto-based firm [Toronto Star]
Ex-Associate Sanctioned by Southern District [New York Law Journal (subscription)]

Earlier: Lawyer of the Day: Charlene Morisseau

(hidden for your protection)

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