A female DLA Piper partner is asking the firm to release her from a mandatory arbitration agreement so she can pursue sex discrimination charges against it and a male partner.
Vanina Guerrero, based in Silicon Valley, is also requesting a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation into her allegations that partner Louis Lehot sexually harassed her, and then retaliated against her for reporting the alleged misconduct, according to an Oct. 1 letter sent to DLA Piper co-chairs Roger Meltzer and Jay Rains.
“We are aware of these allegations by one of our partners and take them seriously,” DLA Piper said in an emailed statement. “As soon as we were notified of the allegations, we took appropriate steps to investigate them. This process is ongoing and we continue to seek Ms. de Verneuil’s cooperation in our investigation.” Ms. Guerrero also is referenced as de Verneuil.
DLA Piper is one of seven firms—including Arent Fox, Cooley, Herbert Smith Freehills London, Hueston Hennigan, Knobbe Martens, and Wyche—that told Harvard Law School in a survey that it still requires summer or first-year associates to sign arbitration contracts. That survey also asked firms to disclose whether arbitration is mandated for first year associates. About 92 percent of respondents said they didn’t use arbitration pacts with associates, and 86 percent said they don’t use them at all.
The EEOC doesn’t have the authority to release Guerrero from the arbitration contract, and state efforts to limit the contracts, which some view as tactics to silence victims, have been scuttled in the face of federal law. Over the past two years, over a dozen states have proposed #MeToo-inspired laws, with many requiring harassment claims to go to court and not arbitration. Of those proposals, four have been enacted, in New York, New Jersey, Vermont, and Maryland.
The U.S. Supreme Court also may consider whether a California arbitration standard is viable, after a former Winston & Strawn partner Constance Ramos sued alleging sex bias. A state appeals court deemed portions of the mandatory arbitration agreement Ramos signed unenforceable, and Winston & Strawn then requested Supreme Court review of the state standard independently of the case.
Guerrero is represented by Wigdor LLP partner Jeanne Christensen, who sent the letter on her behalf.
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