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Jones Day Couple Can Claim Retaliation Over Firm’s Press Release

Feb. 12, 2021, 5:19 PM

Two married former associates suing Jones Day for alleged parental leave, sex, and other bias can add retaliation claims based on a press release the law firm issued after they sued, which they say contains maliciously false assertions designed to ruin their professional reputations, a District of Columbia federal judge ruled.

Mark Savignac and Julia Sheketoff say Jones Day heightened the damaging effects of that retaliation by promoting the press release on Facebook and Twitter.

They sued in August 2019, alleging Savignac was fired two weeks after their son was born and three business days after they sent Jones Day an email complaining about gender inequity in its parental leave policy. Sheketoff also claims pay and other sex bias.

Jones Day called the couple’s June 30 request to file a supplemental complaint over the press release the “apex of absurdity.” Savignac and Sheketoff waited too long to add new claims because they didn’t file their motion until 11 months after it issued the press release, the firm said. The new claims also are futile, Jones Day said.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected those arguments Thursday, citing the liberal policy governing amended and supplemental pleadings.

The firm was correct that Savignac and Sheketoff could have moved to supplement earlier, Judge Randolph D. Moss said. But Jones Day won’t be prejudiced by allowing the additional claims because they’re related to the claims asserted in the original complaint and the case is still in the early stages, the judge said.

Jones Day was “on firmer ground” with its futility argument, which raises “a host of substantial hurdles” the couple will face in pursuing the new claims, the judge said.

But whether job retaliation occurred is context-specific and the record isn’t developed enough to resolve those issues now as a matter of law, Moss said.

The firm says it issued the press release because Savignac and Sheketoff publicized the lawsuit, including in an article in The New York Times. A reporter from that paper contacted the firm and only then did it rebut the suit publicly, Jones Day said.

“Defendants cite no caselaw holding that public statements relating to a matter in litigation, but not made in the litigation itself, are protected” from an employee retaliation suit, or that opinions about an employee’s performance are likewise protected. the court said.

Savignac and Sheketoff represent themselves. Jones Day represents itself.

The case is Savignac v. Jones Day, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-02443, leave to file supplemental complaint granted 2/11/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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