Name-calling has been a part of our lives since roughly the second grade. “I’m rubber, and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” How many of you remember employing this clever retort as a kid? It didn’t do much, but at least you could later be smug about the fact that the kid who tried to insult you was actually the stinky-stink-face, not you.
So, you’d figure that when people grow up, go to law school, and get real jobs as attorneys, then the name-calling would stop. But you’d be oh so wrong. With the advent of modern technology, name-calling is ten times easier than it was before. Lawyers can now insult colleagues in the blink of an eye and with the click of a button, making for great email scandals.
But has name-calling become a part of law firm culture? One wrongful-termination suit claims that it has….
Across the border in Canada, Tracy Francis, a law firm office assistant, is suing Rusonik, O’Connor, Ross, Gorham & Angelini, her former firm, for wrongful termination. Francis claims that she was fired without cause, but the firm has a different opinion on the matter. The Toronto Star has more information:
“Francis engaged in persistent, vexatious, offensive and discriminatory” email correspondence about firm lawyer Jeff Hershberg, the statement of defence says, calling him a “tyrant,” “idiot,” “weasel,” “snivelling b—h,” “dump truck” — a term referring to lawyers who plead out clients rather than litigate — and an “ass.”
Francis allegedly likened Hershberg’s appearance to an Auschwitz survivor and sent an email stating “he wouldn’t know fairness if it came up and smacked him in that ugly mug.” The statement of defence alleges she also “disparaged the firm to the public.”
I’m not sure how he did it, but this Hershberg fellow has allegedly cornered the market on being a tyrannical ass and a snivelling bitch, all at the same time. Francis claims, however, that making these kind of scandalous remarks over email was actually condoned by the firm, a criminal-defense boutique with about 30 lawyers. Given the firm’s culture of name-calling, Francis thought that her emails were acceptable.
Attorneys at the firm apparently had free license to call everyone, including judges, every name in the book, with insults ranging from “closet felcher” to “stupid, fat and lazy.” The firm’s managing partner, Reid Rusonik, had this to say about the less-than-respectful emails that were brought to light as a result of Francis’s lawsuit:
“They were either written under the stress of day-to-day litigation by colleagues who occasionally used the forum as a shared means of blowing off steam or they were written in a jestful, teasing manner between friends,” he said.
The practice has been abolished over the past two years “as inappropriate and because of the potential for misunderstanding and harm,” he said.
Yeah, harm for your law firm, Rusonik. He might as well have said, “We don’t want to deal with another lawsuit from a ‘stupid, fat and lazy’ office assistant, so we’re not going to leave a paper trail next time.”
So, readers, what do you think? Has your firm thrown caution to the wind when it comes to insults and name-calling? Let us know in the comments, or by email.