08:23, May 15 344 0 abajournal.com

2017-05-15 08:23:03
Fired BigLaw associate claims firm violated implied ban on firing people who raise ethics concerns

A former King & Spalding associate claims in a federal lawsuit that he was improperly fired for raising concerns about “actual or narrowly-averted ethical breaches” by two partners.

The former associate, David Joffe, claims the law firm violated an implied restriction on its ability to fire an individual who insists on compliance with legal ethics standards, Law360 (sub. req.), Bloomberg Big Law Business and the New York Law Journal (sub. req.) covered the allegations in the May 8 lawsuit (PDF).

Jaffe cited the 1992 New York Court of Appeals decision,Wieder v. Skala, and said it created an implied obligation for law firms to refrain from erecting disincentives to compliance with core ethics rules.

Joffe, a Harvard law graduate, says he had accrued more than 2,200 billable hours when he was fired on Dec. 7, 2016. He says the firm had advised him earlier in the year that it would contribute $20,000 in profit-sharing contributions to his 401(k) plan, which would vest on Jan. 1.

The firm clawed back the contributions on Dec. 29 in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, according to the suit.

Joffe says the ethical missteps began when a partner made an untrue representation to a federal judge about a client matter. According to Joffe, the partner planned to have the client sign a declaration reaffirming the assertion, though the individual who would sign it appeared to lack personal knowledge of the facts.

Joffe says he told the partner he would report him to the bar if he went through with the plan to file the declaration. The declaration was never filed with the court. Joffe also says he suggested to that partner and another partner on the case that they could not ethically continue to represent the client.

Joffe says he also reported his concerns to the law firm’s general counsel and to an outside counsel in the case.

After that, Joffe says, he was removed from the partnership track, informed his pay would be frozen for three months and denied bonuses.

King & Spalding told the publications in a statement that the law firm’s lawyers didn’t knowingly make any false statement to the court, and Joffe’s firing had nothing to do with the litigation. “He was terminated because he repeatedly refused to comply with directives and expectations that apply to all firm associates,” the law firm said.