A New Jersey-based Fox Rothschild labor and employment attorney has been terminated after he and the firm were both named in a new lawsuit that claims a former administrative assistant at the firm was subject to unrelenting sexual harassment, including attempted rape.
The plaintiff Stephanie Jones also says the firm failed to act on her complaints about Fox Rothschild counsel Ian W. Siminoff, instead retaliating against her.
The office manager told Jones to find a job elsewhere if she wasn’t happy working at Fox Rothschild, according to the complaint Jones filed Dec. 18 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“We are disturbed by the details alleged in the complaint filed today in the Southern District of New York,” a statement from the Fox Rothschild general counsel Tom Paradise said, noting that as of Wednesday morning Siminoff had been terminated.
“The filing omits facts and contains inaccuracies.” the statement said."We believe once brought to light, those facts will demonstrate that Fox Rothschild takes any reporting of harassment as serious and conducts thorough investigations of such reported allegations, as noted in our Harassment-Free Workplace Policy.”
The statement also denied that Jones reported incidents of harassment by Siminoff prior to her own termination from the firm in June 2017.
Jones joined Fox Rothschild when it merged with Roseland, New Jersey-based Grotta, Glassman & Hoffman in 2006. After the merger, Jones, a former librarian, became a paralegal in Fox Rothchild’s Roseland office where she worked with several of its attorneys including Siminoff.
Siminoff first joined Fox Rothschild in 2006 from Pepper Hamilton and represents employers and management in federal and state courts in a variety of employment matters including sexual harassment and employment discrimination, according to a cached version of his firm bio.
In January 2008, Jones said she was assigned to work exclusively with Siminoff and the labor employment department.
The harassment started in January 2014, not long after she transitioned from a paralegal role into an administrative assistant position under partner Michael Barabander, Jones says.
She says Siminoff invited her for drinks, ostensibly to discuss their mutual difficulties with Barabander. But Siminoff soon asked her if she enjoyed oral sex, she said.
She got up and left, but Siminoff then began harassing her in the office, including fondling her breasts and grabbing her vagina under her dress, Jones alleges. In January 2015, Siminoff pushed her into a deserted restroom and tried to force her to have sexual intercourse, but she fought him off, Jones says.
The harassment also included more than 100 unsolicited, sexually graphic text messages from Siminoff between March 2017 and July 2017, the complaint says. Some of the texts included photographs of Siminoff’s penis, Jones says.
Jones also claims that she was sexually harassed by Barabander, though he is not named as a party to her lawsuit. She points to Barabander’s alleged consistent singing of “Me and Mrs. Jones,” a song about an illicit affair.
#MeToo in Big Law
Jones’ lawsuit is being supported by the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, a national women’s rights legal organization that connects sexual harassment victims with attorneys for legal assistance.
The organization, founded by some of the top women in the entertainment industry, is also being supported by legal industry’s heavy hitters like Roberta Kaplan and Anita Hill. Former chief of staff to Michelle Obama, Christina “Tina” Tchen, left her post as a partner and head of Buckley Sandler’s Chicago office to serve as president and chief executive Time’s Up on Nov. 1.
“Too often, survivors of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct who come forward against powerful institutions do so alone; the Fund stands with Ms. Jones as she seeks justice,” Sharyn Tejani, director of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund said in a statement.
While the legal profession has generally escaped the spotlight that has engulfed other industries in the wake of the #MeToo movement, some law firms have found themselves the subject of allegations.
Baker McKenzie’s handling of sexual assault claims against its former partner Gary Senior is currently under fire in a 15-day hearing by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in the U.K.
The former Baker McKenzie London chief and EMEA chair, who left the firm, is fighting off allegations he propositioned and attempted to kiss a female junior colleague in 2012, then tried to influence the ensuing investigation.
Former Baker McKenzie partner Thomas Cassels and the firm’s former head of human resources Martin Blackburn are accused of allowing Senior to affect the inquiry into his behavior, and of failing to report his alleged misconduct in the first instance.
In October, former DLA Piper partner Vanina Guerrero publicly accused Louis Lehot, the former co-managing partner of its Silicon Valley office, of sexually assaulting her multiple times after he recruited her to join the firm in 2018. Following the allegation, Lehot was let go from the firm, but vehemently denied Guerrero’s allegations. In a letter filed with the EEOC by attorneys at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, DLA Piper alleges Guerrero “orchestrated” her relationship with Lehot to further her career. Since then two more women have come forward with allegations of workplace bullying against Lehot, which the firm contests, while Guerrero was placed on administrative leave by DLA Piper.
Still, harassment and assault allegations in Big Law rarely become public, sometimes due to nondisclosure agreements or fear of retribution from the firm if incidents are reported.
According to a survey by the International Bar Association published earlier this year, one in three female lawyers have been sexually harassed at work, but 75% of the incidents were not reported.
Causes of Action: Gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law; the New York City Human Rights Law, and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination; intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; negligent supervision and retention (against Fox Rothschild only); and civil assault and battery (against Siminoff only).
Relief: Declaration that defendants engaged in illegal discrimination and retaliation; appropriate job relief; back pay, front pay, and monetary damages for past and future mental anguish and suffering; attorneys’ fees and other legal and litigation expenses.
Attorneys: T. A. Blackburn Law PLLC and Law Offices of Robert T. Vance Jr. represent Jones.
The case is Jones v. Fox Rothschild LLP, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:19-cv-11573, complaint filed 12/18/19.
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