15:56, October 22 56 0 abajournal.com

2019-10-22 15:56:08
Second woman files EEOC charge against ex-DLA partner; possible pervasive retaliation alleged

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A second woman has filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against DLA Piper and its former rainmaking partner Louis Lehot.

The woman is seeking to remain anonymous. She is represented by Wigdor, the law firm that also represents Vanina Guerrero, a junior partner in Palo Alto, California, who was placed on administrative leave after alleging that she was pursued, kissed and groped by Lehot.

The new claimant, a former human resources manager in the firm’s Palo Alto office, says she was fired Jan. 24, shortly after she complained that she and other female employees there were afraid to be in an office alone with Lehot, especially with the door closed. Her allegations are contained in an Oct. 21 supplemental letter to the EEOC charge.

The new claimant is asking the EEOC to investigate her complaint in conjunction with Guerrero’s and to expand its investigation to encompass a proposed class. It would consist of all female employees who worked at in DLA Piper’s offices in Sacramento, San Francisco, and Palo Alto from 2016 through the present.

“The gender discrimination, sexually hostile work environment and pattern of intimidation and retaliation for speaking out against unlawful conduct by male employees against the proposed class appears pervasive and systemic,” the supplemental letter says.

DLA Piper says Guerrero was placed on leave because its investigation uncovered serious allegations about her conduct involving other people at the law firm. Guerrero’s lawyer, Jeanne Christensen, said in the supplemental letter that the move was “barbaric retaliation” for Guerrero’s complaint.

The former HR manager said her troubles began after she questioned Lehot’s order to fire an administrative assistant older than age 40 who had good performance reviews. The assistant was instead transferred to San Francisco. Lehot was livid that the manager did not follow his order and said she “will be dealt with,” the supplemental letter claims.

The former manager says she reported the conduct but was told that “Louis is just Louis.”

The former manager told of a second alleged encounter with Lehot when he barged into her office Jan. 11. He said he could be an “asshole” and then winked. He also allegedly said he was sorry that a second administrative assistant had left the firm and volunteered that he had paid the second assistant money out of his own pocket.

Any employee who worked in proximity to the second administrative assistant “knew that she was on the receiving end of countless rages, rants, swearing and tantrums by Lehot,” the supplemental letter alleges. “Presumably, Lehot expected female employees to tolerate his belligerent harassment if he paid them enough ‘extra’ cash.”

Before the second administrative assistant left, Lehot had cried and professed his love for her in 2018 when he was drunk at a DLA Piper office party, the supplemental letter alleged, citing “common knowledge.”

The former manager says she was “bullied and intimidated” into silence when she accepted $8,300 in severance pay. At the time, she was facing financial pressures and needed health insurance because of recent minor surgery, the supplemental letter says.

The former manager and Guerrero signed arbitration agreements. Wigdor wants to be able to litigate rather than arbitrate the allegations.

The Recorder, Bloomberg and Law360 have coverage of the new allegations.

DLA Piper provided this statement to the ABA Journal: “Consistent with Ms. Christensen’s previous communications with the media, her most recent letter is filled with inaccuracies and falsehoods, which will be demonstrated through the proper channels at EEOC. Ms. Christensen plainly seeks to distract attention and interfere with the ongoing investigation regarding her client, Ms. de Verneuil.” De Verneuil is Guerrero’s married name.

Wigdor revealed the EEOC charge on the same day that Lehot said in a statement that he “did not assault or harass Vanina Guerrero and she knows it.” In the statement, Lehot acknowledged “poor judgment in developing an emotional relationship” with Guerrero.

Lehot’s statement included emails intended to show that Lehot’s relationship with Guerrero was friendly. He included emails showing that Guerrero had planned a trip with Lehot to Machu Picchu after the time period when she said the assaults occurred.

Lehot left DLA Piper, the firm said Oct. 11, after it concluded “for various reasons” that it was in the firm’s best interests, even though Guerrero’s “allegations have not been substantiated by the investigation to date.”

A spokesperson said Lehot has no comment on the new allegations.