Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht is poised for a legal fight with one of its former partners, who alleged the firm illegally fired him and committed other misconduct, leading Pierce Bainbridge to fire back with extortion and defamation claims.
Donald Lewis, a former partner in the fast-growing litigation boutique’s New York office, claims the firm wrongfully terminated him late last year following a “sham investigation” into sexual assault claims against him. He also accuses the two-year-old firm of financial misconduct in a complaint filed with the Manhattan Supreme Court Wednesday.
Lewis’ complaint, which names the firm, its global managing partner John Pierce, and other partners as defendants, later disappeared from the court’s database. But it was attached to Pierce Bainbridge’s own complaint filed Wednesday afternoon in the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles as its Exhibit A. Lewis’ complaint was refiled with the New York court early Thursday morning, his attorney Neal Brickman said.
In its filing, Pierce Bainbridge accuses Lewis of looking to “seek revenge for his termination” and attempting to extort the firm for $65 million.
Lewis, a former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom associate and former in-house counsel at WeWork, first joined the firm in June 2018 as a part of its expansion efforts in the Big Apple. However, Lewis was placed on leave in October following allegations of sexual assault and harassment, according to court filings.
Pierce Bainbridge retained Michael Yim from New York’s Putney, Twombly, Hall & Hirson to conduct an investigation into the allegations and, according to its complaint, found the allegations credible and terminated Lewis in late November.
Lewis, however, alleges that he was placed on leave following this “demonstrably false allegation.” In his 96-page complaint, Lewis also accuses the firm of racial discrimination, fraud and various financial improprieties related to its relationship with litigation funders, including its initial funder Pravati Capital.
However, following his termination Pierce Bainbridge’s complaint also alleges that Lewis’ attorney Neal Brickman sent a draft complaint to the firm and its partners seeking a resolution outside of litigation. The Pierce Bainbridge complaint also said that the defendant’s counsel had stated he intended to “move forward with the immediate filing” of his client’s complaint if the defendant didn’t receive “respect.”
“What we were trying to do was privately resolve these civil claims rather than publicly litigate them,” Brickman said. “When we saw that wasn’t going to work, we filed the claims. How anyone can construe that as extortion is beyond me,” he added.
In an emailed statement, John Pierce “vigorously” denied Lewis’ "baseless accusations.”
“Mr. Lewis’s actions constitute outright extortion,” he said. “After only 4 brief months at the firm, the plaintiff seems to think he can fabricate stories about things he knows nothing about. And then demand that we reward him for his shameful behavior.”