Biglaw, Email Scandals, Layoffs, Partner Issues, Staff Layoffs, Technology

Summer Drama At Cleary Gottlieb

One Liberty Plaza: a tower of dark secrets?

It’s official: Cleary Gottlieb is no longer boring. The elite and esteemed firm is now exciting as well.

In the past few months, Cleary has generated enough drama to fuel a law firm soap opera — think “All My Associates” or “The Biglaw and the Beautiful” (on second thought, save the latter title for Davis Polk). Cleary has witnessed a mysterious partner departure, support staff vanishing into the ether, and a summer associate dismissed due to his disturbing past.

Yesterday, the drama at One Liberty Plaza continued. A terminated employee rose from the cyber-grave to haunt the living — before he was electronically exorcised by the powers-that-be….

At around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, everyone at Cleary Gottlieb received a lengthy email from an individual we’ll call “HR” (his initials) or “Angry IT Guy.” In his email, totaling about four single-spaced pages, HR claimed he was wrongfully terminated, defended his job performance, and called into question the qualifications and competence of his former supervisors and colleagues. He also offered some thoughts on the stealth layoffs of support staff at Cleary, as well as what he called the “bully[ing]” of staff at the firm.

It seems that the higher-ups at Cleary weren’t fans of Angry IT Guy’s after-the-fact departure memo. Shortly after it was sent, Cleary’s IT department magically deleted it from everyone’s inboxes, including any replies and forwards. “Feels kind of big brothery,” said one of our sources.

Furthermore, any message mentioning Angry IT Guy by name got automatically bounced back to the sender, instead of transmitted to the recipient. When we emailed Cleary yesterday for possible comment, our message, which mentioned HR by name, got bounced back to us with this explanation: “This message violates our email policy.” When we resent our message after replacing HR’s full name with his initials, our message went through.

(Cleary declined to discuss Angry IT Guy, explaining that “[a]s a policy, we do not comment on personnel matters.” We also emailed Angry IT Guy, but he did not get back to us.)

UPDATE (8/9/2013, 9:30 a.m.): After the firm made the message from Angry IT Guy disappear, Sheldon Alster, whose reign as New York managing partner we have discussed before, sent out this email:

We are aware that many of you received an email this morning from a former employee, conveying his perceptions on a variety of subjects relating to his employment by the Firm. It is not appropriate for us to provide a substantive response to that email, but we do wish to assure you that, in all circumstances – including with respect to this employee – the Firm takes very seriously its obligation to treat its employees fairly and respectfully, and to follow the Firm’s written policies and procedures in matters of this kind.

Please do not hesitate to contact me or [Administrator] Kelly Stevens if you have any questions or concerns.

What do we know about HR aka Angry IT Guy? Not a huge amount. One of our tipsters told us that he was a network engineer at the firm who was fired a few months ago and was “freaking pissed” about it. This source described HR as “a nice guy generally, a little full of himself.”

That sounds about right, at least based on his ex post facto departure memo (reprinted in full on the next page, with initials in place of names). The email goes on at great length about HR’s technological knowledge and prowess and describes a number of situations in which HR warned about a problem and was subsequently vindicated. Most of the message amounts to IT inside baseball, but a few sections address broader issues at Cleary.

We’ve previously discussed staff being treated less pleasantly at Cleary, perhaps in an effort to encourage attrition. Angry IT Guy claims to have suffered such treatment:

They attempted to make me quit by stripping me of my responsibilities and isolating me from my tasks in hoping that I would become bored and quit. Unfortunately for them, none of these tactics worked. As to my understanding of the Cleary policies, this should have been deemed a form of harassment. I complained and was told that it was not….

I was forced by KB to work outrageously long hours and when I complained to Human Resources, I was told by KB and DH that because I was an exempt employee, I was to work until the job was finished and I was at the firm’s disposal at ANY given time and there was nothing I could do about it.

Sounds like par for the Biglaw course. It’s worth noting, however, that there’s a fair amount of litigation breaking out these days over whether certain employees are being misclassified as exempt from wage and hour laws. Angry IT Guy might want to consult with an employment lawyer.

We’ve written before about stealth layoffs of staff at Cleary in the past year or so. Angry IT Guy claims that there were such layoffs in the IT department in May 2012. He also alleges that the reductions have targeted older employees and minority employees:

Within the past year and a half, Cleary has eliminated staff over 40 without cause. They have used the excuse of retirement, reduction in staff or any other potentially acceptable reason. The truth is, that the largest percentage of these people were over 40 and 50 years of age, were people of color and supposedly did not fit the new Cleary image. Simply ask around and look at the person that you are aware of that has been released from their role at Cleary. The sorry fact is that the process is not over.

He suggests that age and race might have played a role in his own termination:

Giving everyone involved the benefit of the doubt; I still cannot understand the reason for my termination. When did they decide to outsource me? Was it before I challenged KB’s lack of technical ability? Was it before I challenged the poor design decisions that were costing the firm lots of money because of downtime? Or was it because I was more qualified than KB or ML but I was black and over 40? Yes. I said it. In a real world, I would not have been treated the way that I was if I was young and not African American.

(Cleary Gottlieb, consider yourself lucky. Elie Mystal is on vacation this week.)

It seems that Angry IT Guy was willing to pay the price for the ability to speak out:

I refused the Cleary separation package so that I could not be kept quiet about my experiences and other concerns at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton. Someone had to be a voice to let the unknowing know what is happening in the company that they dedicate so much of themselves to everyday. I assure you, there is a hidden list of those that are accepted because they are on board with this and those who will be shunned because they refuse to be part of the process.

Cf. Shinyung Oh, the former Paul Hastings associate who wrote in her famous departure memo, “As for your request for a release, non-disclosure, and non-disparagement agreement in return for three months’ pay, I reject it. Unlike you, I am not just a paid mouthpiece with no independent judgment. I will decide how and to whom to communicate how you have treated me.”

At the same time, even while decrying the “bully[ing]” of staff, Angry IT Guy denies any sort of vendetta against Cleary:

[I]n closing, do not let these people bully you. They will only get away with it if you let them. I do not intend to let that happen.

I’d also like to add that I am not disgruntled nor am I trying to get back at Cleary or any of its staff because I know longer work there. I just need for everyone to know what has happened and what will continue to happen if no one says or does anything about it.

So that’s the tale of Angry IT Guy. He might be an outlier in his willingness to speak out about goings-on at Cleary, but he’s not alone in having grievances with the firm. Here’s what a tipster told us about the state of staff at CGSH:

They are really treating us like s**t. Probably attempting to get us to quit. Things like changing schedules, denying us vacation time when we want/need it, nitpicking.

I don’t feel I’m being disloyal at all. They deserve to have their vain butts exposed. I really believe the previous ATL articles have slowed things down sharply, termination-wise.

Terminations might have slowed for the time being, but are they over? Some sources think not. Here are some collected comments:

“The tension at Cleary is intense. Some are petrified they are going to lose their jobs, others are like, f**k it bring it on already…. [T]he associates are worried now. It is really bizarre.”

“Word Processing and Duplicating have been told there is no overtime whatsoever, even if the work cannot get done. It has to be left for the next day. And no temps. Getting the work done promptly has always been the mantra at Cleary since I started working here.”

“Cleary rented two floors at 22 Cortlandt Street about 7 or 8 years ago. They put IT, Billing, Accounting, Records, and Payroll over there. These departments are now being moved back to One Liberty Plaza, but their previous space from years ago has been converted into attorney offices and conference rooms. Some people in WP think their department will be be outsourced; some people in the Library think their department will be eliminated. The move is supposed to occur in September or October.”

Summing up the situation, one tipster told us, “It’s a shame because Cleary was always good to us. The new partners in charge really suck. They just aren’t honest with us.”

We’ll continue to monitor the situation at One Liberty Plaza. If you have information or opinions to share with us, whether critical or complimentary of Cleary, please feel free to email us or to text us (646-820-8477). Thanks.

(Flip to the next page to read Angry IT Guy’s email message in all its glory.)

(hidden for your protection)

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