What do Proskauer Rose and Ropes & Gray have in common (besides the seven shared letters in their firm names)?

  • They are both leading law firms.
  • They both have major presences, their two biggest offices, in New York and Boston.

  • They both have blue and gray in their logos.
  • And they are both involved in litigation with former employees claiming employment discrimination.

Let’s take a look at the latest news — a fresh lawsuit filed against Proskauer, and updates in a lawsuit against Ropes that we’ve previously covered….

We’ll start with the suit being prosecuted against Proskauer. The firm is being sued in New York state court by its former chief financial officer, Elly Rosenthal, who claims discrimination based on gender, age, and disability (actual or perceived). Nathan Koppel reports, over at the WSJ Law Blog:

Law firms have been hit with many discrimination suits over the years, often by women and minorities who claimed they were wrongly passed over for partner. But it’s rare to see a suit filed by an employee at this level of seniority.

“Despite a nearly two-decade track record of success, during which Ms. Rosenthal never received a single negative review, she was marginalized by male superiors . . .and then terminated after she took medical leave” for breast cancer, she alleges in her complaint, which seeks $10 million in damages.

The Law Blog has sought comment from the firm.

Rosenthal alleges that women are “conspicuously” absent from Proskauer’s leadership ranks and comprise only 15% of the firm’s partnership.

In her lawsuit, Rosenthal takes Proskauer’s prominence in employment discrimination defense and, well, turns it around on them:

As Proskauer’s website “proudly proclaims, for more than 70 years the firm has been ‘synonymous with labor law’ — on the side of the country’s ‘largest employers,’” the complaint states. “Unfortunately for Elly Rosenthal. . . .this management-side experience has served the firm all too well.”

You can read the full complaint over here. Note that Rosenthal is represented by a high-powered lawyer: Steven L. Wittels, founding partner of Sanford Wittels & Heisler, a successful litigation boutique that specializes in plaintiff-side employment discrimination cases, among other matters. In other words, this is not a random pro se case — and due to the involvement of prominent counsel, it probably won’t be quickly dismissed.

John H. Ray III

Speaking of pro se litigants, let’s now turn to John H. Ray III and his lawsuit against Ropes. Going pro se often doesn’t turn out well — as the old adage goes, “He who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client” — but John Ray isn’t the typical pro se litigant. As we’ve mentioned before, Ray is a Harvard Law School graduate and former Seventh Circuit clerk who worked as a litigator at Ropes for several years, before it all went south.

Here’s the latest news on Ray v. Ropes & Gray, from Am Law Daily:

Ropes & Gray moved late Monday in Boston federal district court to have two of nine counts contained in an employment discrimination suit filed against the firm by former associate John Ray III dismissed. [PDF]

In its motion for partial dismissal, Ropes — represented by Michael Keating and Christopher Hart of Foley Hoag and Lisa Arrowood of Arrowood Peters — asks the court to reject an unfair competition count against the firm, as well as a defamation count lodged against former human resources manager Joy Curtis. (In a footnote to the Monday filing, the firm states that it is waiting for the partial dismissal motion to be resolved before answering the other seven counts contained in Ray’s suit.)

What’s the basis for the motion to dismiss?

Ropes argues in its motion for partial dismissal that the unfair competition claim should be tossed because the statute under which Ray brought it does not apply to employer-employee relationships. The statute is reserved for a commercial transaction arising out of a business context, the firm’s motion states.

As for the defamation claim against Curtis, the firm argues that it should be thrown out because Ray has failed to show any specific examples of the allegedly defamatory statements and has failed to provide any dates of publication.

John Ray didn’t waste any time in responding:

[Ray moved on] Tuesday for an entry of default [PDF] on the basis that the firm filed its partial dismissal motion 22 minutes after Monday’s 6 p.m. deadline, as well as because that motion applied to only two of the 15 defendants in the matter: Ropes and Curtis.

Ray says the 13 Ropes partners named in his suit — Randall Bodner, David Chapin, John Donovan, Keith Higgins, Jesse Jenner, Robert Jones, William Knowlton, R. Bradford Malt, David Mandel, Joan McPhee, John Montgomery, Brien O’Connor, and Othon Prounis — have “a separate obligation to respond to the complaint by answer.” Because they didn’t, he argues, the court should enter a default against them.

John Ray surely learned about the importance of filing deadlines and thorough pleadings during his years at Ropes — knowledge he has taken and turned around on his former employer.

What do all these lawsuits say about law firm culture? Jane Genova has some interesting reflections at Law and More:

The proliferation of employment suits against law firms such as Ropes & Gray is emblematic of the struggle going on about resetting the social contract between employer and employee. Given the global shifts in the legal sector, employers and employees simply have to change their assumptions and behavior about their responsibilities to each other….

This battle in court about the model for appropriate employer-employee relationships in high-powered, well-paid jobs has been of interest to the media since Aaron Charney sued Sullivan & Cromwell [for alleged sexual-orientation discrimination]. At the time, most media snickered about an employee trying to sue a law firm. However, not only did Charney receive a settlement from Sullivan & Cromwell, he also got another good job in the legal sector.

The growing distress about how employers allegedly treat employees could be the story for this second decade of the 21st century.

Indeed — and we’ll be there to chronicle it, at least when major law firms are involved. If you have any firsthand info about either Rosenthal v. Proskauer Rose or Ray v. Ropes & Gray, please feel free to email us.

UPDATE (10/7/11): You can check out Proskauer’s response to Elly Rosenthal’s lawsuit over at Am Law Daily.

Former Proskauer CFO Hits Firm With Discrimination Suit [WSJ Law Blog]
Ropes Moves for Partial Dismissal of Ex-Associate’s Bias Suit [Am Law Daily]
Ropes & Gray, John Ray III, Schumpeter Struggle over Social Contract [Law and More]
Former Proskauer CFO Files Bias Suit Claiming She Was Marginalized and Fired After Cancer Leave [ABA Journal]
Alleging Racial Bias, Former Ropes & Gray Associate Sues Firm [Am Law Daily]

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of John H. Ray III


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