Affirmative Action, Biglaw, Defamation, Labor / Employment, Lawsuit of the Day, Minority Issues, Partner Issues, Privacy, Racism

Lawsuit of the Day: Fifty Shades of Ropes & Gray

“In accepting the offer to join Ropes & Gray, Ray accepted Roscoe Trimmier’s assurances that Ropes ‘does not see black and white, only shades of Ropes & Gray.'”

That’s paragraph 75 from the latest complaint filed by John H. Ray III, a 2000 graduate of Harvard Law School and an African-American man, against his former employer, Ropes & Gray. According to Ray, the firm, after initially embracing him with open arms, turned on him. Ray claims that he was subjected to racial discrimination and retaliation, which made his time at the firm more painful than pleasurable. And, unlike Anastasia Steele of Fifty Shades of Grey (affiliate link), Ray did not enjoy the alleged abuse.

When we first wrote about Ray, he was proceeding pro se against Ropes & Gray. Now he has hired counsel — an experienced employment-discrimination litigator who has appeared before in these pages.

Let’s find out who’s representing John Ray, and take a closer look at the complaint — which features an Above the Law shout-out, interestingly enough….

John H. Ray III

John Ray first raised his complaints against Ropes & Gray before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC ultimately concluded that the firm did not discriminate against Ray but that it did retaliate against him after he raised complaints.

Still proceeding pro se, Ray then sued Ropes in federal court (D. Mass.). The parties engaged in some sparring through motion practice, with Ropes seeking to dismiss part of Ray’s suit and Ray opposing the dismissal.

Now Ray has retained counsel: Latif Doman of Doman Davis. If Doman’s name rings a bell, it should. The veteran employment litigator has gone up against Biglaw before: for a time he represented Yolanda Young in her lawsuit against Covington & Burling. (That lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful — but note that Doman left the case prior to its conclusion, due to disagreements with Young over case strategy.)

Represented by his new lawyer, John Ray seeks to expand his case against Ropes & Gray. The National Law Journal reports:

A Boston federal judge has allowed former Ropes & Gray associate John H. Ray III to add defamation and invasion of privacy claims to his racial discrimination and retaliation case against the law firm.

U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns on August 23 granted Ray’s motion to tack on the new claims, noting that the defense had not opposed the move.

Ray filed his suit in August 2011 against the firm, 13 of its partners and its former human resources chief officer. Ray, who is black, claimed he was treated as a “token black associate” and a “diversity hire” — and that he was denied work and otherwise punished following his complaints within the firm and to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Ray’s lawyer, Latif Doman of Washington’s Doman Davis, said the amended complaint was necessary because Ropes apparently gave confidential EEOC documents to the web site abovethelaw.com.

Yup, that’s the ATL shout-out. From Count X of the amended complaint, “Defamation”:

The post in question, featuring the allegedly “misleading quote,” would appear to be this one. If you’re interested, you can read John Ray’s full complaint on the next page.

The defamation claim is pretty tame compared to the other allegations, which are much more inflammatory. Some of them are highlighted in the NLJ:

The original claims included breach of contract and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing: violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; unfair competition; and violations of several Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws.

Ray alleged that a Ropes partner asked him in 2008 to serve as the “token black associate” and a “black face” during a meeting with a prospective bank client facing allegations that it had discriminated against black residents in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester….

Ray claimed the retaliation started when he complained to partners and others at the firm about the “token black associate” comment and a “n****r” joke. Partners assigned to give him work gave him less, which significantly reduced his billable hours. From June to December 2008 they fell to 882.2, compared to 1,111.75 during the same period the year before, he said.

As you may recall, here is Ropes & Gray’s previously stated position on John Ray:

After an 18-month investigation, the EEOC determined that Ropes & Gray denied partnership to Mr. Ray because of work that was well below our partnership standards, his fractured relationships with colleagues and allegations of inappropriate behavior with subordinates. In short, he did not perform to the high standards of quality and judgment expected of partners at our firm, and as a result we terminated his employment.

We reached out to Ropes & Gray for additional comment. Through a spokesperson, the firm reiterated what it told the NLJ: “The EEOC specifically determined that Ropes & Gray did not discriminate against Mr. Ray and that determination was subsequently reconfirmed by the EEOC.”

We’ll continue to follow this litigation, which is no less riveting than Fifty Shades itself. If you’d like to read selected highlights from the complaint, followed by the complete document, in all of its glory, flip ahead to the next page.

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