Business & Practice

Troutman Sanders Secretary Accuses Boss of Sexual Harassment (1)

Aug. 12, 2019, 6:28 PM

Troutman Sanders LLP is accused in a new lawsuit of subjecting a legal secretary in New York to a male partner’s persistent sexual harassment.

Jessica Correa says the unwelcome behavior started even before she officially began working for Troutman in January 2017, when Gerald Francese asked her out to lunch and told her he was her “friend.” She considered the remark as innocent at the time but soon learned Francese had other intentions, she says in a complaint filed Aug. 12 in federal court in Manhattan.

Sex discrimination and harassment charges against law firms have been predicted to increase in the wake of the #MeToo movement, at least according to one author of a multi-year study on employment-related insurance liability claims against law firms. Other surveys have pointed to the prevalence of harassment at both big and small firms, where 38 percent of respondents said they received an unwanted sexual email or message at work and 21 percent said they experienced or witnessed unwelcome physical contact.

The complaint against Troutman adds to a string of lawsuits this year alleging discrimination against women at premiere law firms. In April, Jones Day was accused of wage bias and discrimination by six women at the firm. Morrison & Foerster was sued for pregnancy bias that same month, and female shareholders at Ogletree Deakins are seeking $300 million for systemic sex discrimination.

Correa sued Francese and the firm under New York state and city laws, in addition to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

New York legislators recently amended state law to make it easier to bring workplace sexual harassment claims in court. The new law, signed Aug. 12 by Gov. Andrew Cumo (D), lifts the legal barrier that the conduct has to be “severe or pervasive” to be challenged in court.

Escalating Behavior

Francese, who had a reputation for being “very generous” with the staff, was soon calling her “cutie” and creating situations where he could stare at her breasts, Correa says. He also commented on and offered to adjust her clothing. Next came dinner invitations, which Francese really envisioned as dates, and physical touching, according to the complaint.

While at dinner one night, Francese mentioned Korean prostitutes and later tried to kiss her, the lawsuit says. He loaned her $2,600 when she had personal issues and then offered to be her “Sugar Daddy.” He ultimately kissed her twice against her will and retaliated when she worked up the courage to complain, Correa says.

The sex-based discrimination was so bad she was forced to quit and continues to experience psychological stress, she says.

The complaint names both Troutman and Francese as defendants.

Causes of Action: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

Relief: Compensatory and punitive damages; attorneys’ fees and costs.

Response: Attorneys for Correa and Troutman didn’t immediately respond Aug. 12 to Bloomberg Law’s requests for comment.

Attorneys: Eisner & Dictor P.C. represents Correa.

The case is Correa v. Troutman Sanders LLP, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:19-cv-07511, complaint filed 8/12/19.

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com; Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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