Biglaw, Dewey & LeBoeuf, Lateral Moves, Litigators, Litigatrix, Money, Partner Issues, Severance, Sexism, Sexual Harassment, Thompson & Knight

Dewey Know A Partner Whose Alleged Actions Led to a $400K ‘Severance Arrangement’?

Adam Kaiser

After the multiple frantic emails and text messages sent to us, in the wake of the “Partners should be able to act however they want to associates” comment that was falsely attributed to Adam Kaiser, we began to wonder if Kaiser might have something to do with the Emily Saffitz situation. After consulting with multiple Dewey sources, we learned that yes, Emily Saffitz did complain to Dewey management about allegedly inappropriate comments made to her by Adam Kaiser.

Before we share what we know, let’s be clear about what we don’t know:

1. We do not know the precise nature of the allegations. (If you can enlighten us, please email us or text us, at 646-820-8477 — texts only, not a voice line.)

2. We do not know whether Emily Saffitz complained about any other lawyers or staffers at Dewey.

3. We do not know the extent to which any alleged actions by any other lawyers or staffers at Dewey may have contributed to the complaints by Saffitz that gave rise to the six-figure severance payment.

Emily Saffitz

So here’s what we do know. Saffitz and Kaiser were both in the litigation department at Dewey, and they had offices on the same floor. “They got along great at one time,” a Dewey tipster told us. “Then something went south.”

A second source informed us that Kaiser made allegedly inappropriate remarks to Saffitz. This source declined to describe the comments, but opined that “Kaiser is a PIG” and claimed that his comments were quite awful: “She’s no wishy-washy cute young thing: Emily is opinionated, aggressive, and self-assured…. [B]ut he shook her up pretty badly.”

(By the way, we’ve heard other positive statements about Saffitz. Not only is she a strong and smart litigatrix, but she is loyal, compassionate, and deeply committed to pro bono work. We’ve also heard people praise her for helping displaced DL people find new jobs.)

Saffitz complained about Adam Kaiser’s alleged comments to Dewey management, including Janis M. Meyer, the general counsel of Dewey (and one of the few partners still on the premises, helping to wind down the firm’s affairs). In response to Saffitz’s complaints, her office was moved to a different floor, to put some distance between her and Kaiser.

In addition, according to one of our sources, Meyer allegedly told Saffitz that the comments were partly her fault for being “too friendly.” Such a comment might seem less than helpful, a “blame the victim” type of response. One can already hear the howls of outrage from the Jezebel crowd.

Janis Meyer

But in possible defense of Janis Meyer — let’s play devil’s advocate for a second — remember that at one point Adam Kaiser and Emily Saffitz were pals. Anyone who has spent significant time in Biglaw has seen situations where a male partner and a female associate become fast friends, start speaking to each other in overly familiar ways, and then — bam! — one day the partner says or does something that crosses the line, and finds himself on the receiving end of a sexual harassment complaint. It could be argued that if the associate had never become “friendly” with the partner in the first place, the problems could have been avoided.

(We provided this version of events to Janis Meyer and requested comment — or correction if erroneous. A representative from Sitrick And Company, Dewey’s crisis management PR firm, informed us that Meyer had no comment on these matters.)

The office move might have improved the situation between Saffitz and Kaiser, but it did not save Saffitz’s career at Dewey. Multiple sources described to us what happened next. As one tipster told us, “her caseload then slowly began to dry up, until one day she announced she was leaving. Very little notice on top of that. Draw your own conclusion.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Saffitz left Dewey with a “severance arrangement” worth more than $400,000 at the time (who knows how much she’ll end up getting in the bankruptcy). Considering that Saffitz wasn’t that senior — she graduated from Penn Law in 2006 — she was probably earning around $230,000 to $250,000 in base salary. So the sum of $400,000 represented more than a year’s worth of salary, a deal far more lucrative than the other Dewey severance packages we’ve heard about from former employees. How did Saffitz secure such a severance agreement? And who was her employment lawyer?

Both Saffitz and Kaiser survived the sinking of the S.S. Dewey. Emily Saffitz left the firm before its collapse, joining Thompson & Knight this past April. The firm touted her arrival with a press release (standard for partners, somewhat unusual for associates).

Meanwhile, Adam Kaiser landed safely at Winston & Strawn (here’s his bio). He was part of the big group of litigators that, led by Jeffrey Kessler, moved over to Winston during Dewey’s dying days.

Did Winston know about Saffitz’s complaints against Kaiser at the time that it hired him? It’s not clear. We posed exactly that question to Winston’s spokesperson, Darryl Van Duch — the one who texted us demanding removal of the “Adam Kaiser” comment — and received no response. Van Duch didn’t even respond to our (rather innocuous) question as to whether Winston even has firm policies on sex discrimination or sexual harassment. (Hopefully it does.)

What does Kaiser’s hiring by Winston say about the due diligence (or lack thereof) associated with lateral partner hiring? If Winston hired Kaiser without knowing he had been the subject of complaints at his prior firm, it wouldn’t have been the first time a Biglaw firm hired a lateral and received a surprise. Frode Jensen III saw his Latham & Watkins partnership offer get yanked after his former firm, Pillsbury Winthrop, issued a highly unusual statement mentioning “sexual harassment allegations … and a significant decline in his productivity.” Jensen sued Pillsbury and reportedly secured a multimillion-dollar settlement.

More recently, Jeremy Pitcock got ousted from Morgan & Finnegan after his former firm, Kasowitz Benson, claimed that he was fired for “extremely inappropriate personal conduct” (to wit, alleged sexual harassment). Morgan & Finnegan apparently didn’t know about the allegations against Pitcock when it hired him (although considering that Morgan is now defunct, perhaps Kasowitz did Pitcock a favor by getting him bounced from the IP boutique). Pitcock and Kasowitz sued each other; both cases wound up getting dismissed.

Being in the spotlight for allegations of sex discrimination or sexual harassment is never fun. In fairness to Adam Kaiser, two Dewey sources spoke highly of him to us. One former Dewey staffer described him as “a really good guy, not an uppity type of partner — one of my favorite partners at the firm. If you were working on him with something, he was the kind of partner who might come down to your office, instead of making you come up to him. A very down-to-earth, good guy to work with.”

“Adam is a terrific attorney and a terrific person,” an ex-Dewey lawyer told us. “In my experience he has always conducted himself with integrity and professionalism. Moreover, he has a deep commitment to diversity within big law and was also personally involved in several pro bono matters dealing with issues related to unfair and illegal discrimination. While I have no first-hand knowledge of the situation, the rumors I have heard are completely inconsistent with the Adam that I know and respect.”

So what exactly happened between Emily Saffitz and Adam Kaiser? The world may never know. We repeatedly reached out to both of them, as well as to spokespersons at Dewey and Winston, but received no substantive responses.

It sounds like a case of two good people who had a bad interaction. It’s an unfortunate turn of events, but certainly not unheard of at large law firms. We might write more about sex discrimination and sexual harassment in Biglaw — and the sometimes super-lucrative settlements that make these claims quietly vanish — in a future post. We’re especially interested in hearing from you, our readers, about (1) the most egregious alleged behavior and (2) the biggest settlements (in terms of dollar amount).

If you have information you’d like to share with us, please email us or text us (646-820-8477; texts only, not a voice line). Thanks.

UPDATE (8:15 PM): In the comments, some readers have argued that we weren’t hard enough on Adam Kaiser, claiming that he must have done or said something pretty problematic to Emily Saffitz in order to give rise to more than $400,000 in liability. This comment is representative:

“It sounds like a case of two good people who had a bad interaction.”

If that’s the outcome of your “investigation” then your journalistic skills leave much to be desired. Emily is the only good person in this story. Kaiser’s inability to filter any comment coming out of his mouth was widely known.

Look, we report what we hear from our sources. If you’d like to provide us with additional information about Adam Kaiser, relating to Saffitzgate or to any other incident, we welcome it. You know where to reach us.

UPDATE (6/7/2012, 3:30 PM): And other readers think that we (or the commenters) have been too tough on Adam Kaiser. A staffer who worked with him at Weil Gotshal wrote in:

While working for [Kaiser] at Weil, not once was he the morally reprehensible dolt that he’s being accused of in this story, and while at Dewey, he was always one of the nicest partners to work for/with. His reputation among the secretaries and paralegals was stellar; we knew he did not have an arrogant bone in his body. While other partners routinely ignored your existence or belittled you or your efforts or was just plain hoity toity, not Adam.

I don’t know what happened, and if Emily was indeed violated in this way, as a woman my heart goes out to her, and I hope she gets every dime. But these allegations are completely contradictory to the Adam Kaiser that I have known and worked closely with…. Just thought you should know, and BTW, I haven’t been in touch with him nor he with me regarding this story. (Another friend from Weil sent me the link to the story and I just felt compelled to write.)

In case you’re interested, check out this public relations advice for Adam Kaiser.

Dewey Hopes to Resolve Bankruptcy Quickly [DealBook / New York Times]
Dewey’s New Life as Bankrupt Debtor Kicks Off [WSJ Law Blog]
Dewey Effectively Done As Firm Files for Bankruptcy Protection [Am Law Daily]

Earlier: Why Dewey Owe More Than $400K to a Former Associate?
Dewey & LeBoeuf: A Bunch of Nazis?
Inside Straight: Dewey Know Who’s Next?

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