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Wake Up Call: Amazon GC Sparks Scandal After Workers’ Covid-19 Protest

April 7, 2020, 1:12 PM

In today’s column, more Big Law firms announced cost-cutting measures to protect their cash-flow during the Covid-19 pandemic, but some firms tried to reassure associates they’re not planning layoffs or paycuts; three Mayer Brown lawyers in Hong Kong, including a co-practice leader, tested positive for the virus after visiting London; New Jersey law grads will be able to practice temporarily without passing the bar exam; and all top law schools have now shifted to mandatory pass/fail grading for the spring semester. Goodwin poached the head of Duane Morris’ cannabis practice.

  • Leading off, Amazon.com Inc. is having trouble tamping down a scandal sparked by its general counsel, David Zapolsky, after a protest in New York by warehouse employees against their working conditions amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. In leaked comments from a meeting attended by company CEO Jeff Bezos, Zapolsky allegedly disparaged fired African American employee Christian Smalls as “not smart or articulate.” (Bloomberg News)

  • Amazon said Smalls was fired for violating a Covid-19 quarantine, but Smalls argues he was fired because he helped organize the protest. A former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney, now in private practice, called Zapolsky’s alleged comments “ignorant,” and said they could be used to underpin a lawsuit for retaliation and race discrimination. (Corporate Counsel)

  • Several more U.K. law firms made cost-cutting moves in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Pinsent Masons is furloughing some “non-fee earning” staff and considering a change to partner distributions; meanwhile, Herbert Smith Freehills,is reducing partner payouts and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer suspended partner distribution and froze lawyer pay, among other moves. PwC’s legal arm was affected by the Big Four accountancy’s decision to freeze promotions, pay hikes, and bonuses in its U.K. units. (Law.com International)

  • Amidst all the bad news, some Big Law firms told associates and other employees they are not planning layoffs or pay cuts, at least for now. (AbovetheLaw.com) (AmericanLawyer.com)

  • Three attorneys from Mayer Brown’s Hong Kong office, including a co-leader of its international arbitration practice, tested positive for the new coronavirus Covid-19 after traveling to London for an arbitration case, according to reports. (AbovetheLaw.com) (The Standard) (Law.com)

  • Big Law M&A dealmakers in 2020’s first quarter saw a “story of two halves,” one before and one after the Covid-19 crisis hit. (BLAW)

  • So, is dealmaking as good as dead during the Covid-19 crisis? Cooley is hosting a virtual roundtable today to consider that and other questions about the volatile M&A deal marketplace. (Event.on24.com) Also today, a Dechert webinar will discuss considerations on regulatory disclosures and communications with U.S. fund investors. (Dechert) Reed Smith’s coronavirus resources include a 50-state quarantine guide, and information on the new CARES Act, among others. (ReedSmith.com)

  • Cooley advised San Francisco biotech company Vir Biotechology Inc. in a $250 million deal with British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc in which the two companies will pool resources to research vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 and other coronaviruses. (Bloomberg News)

Lawyers, Law Firms

  • Despite the crisis, Skadden Arps announced 13 promotions to partner, including eight women, across eight offices in the U.S., London and Hong Kong. (Skadden.com)

  • K&L Gates hired former U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Rybicki as a partner in its investigations, enforcement, and white collar practice. He joins from the DOJ’s criminal division, where he served off and on since 2008 in various roles. According to his LinkedIn, he spent a year as counsel at Weil, Gotshal & Manges and was an associate at Wiley Rein. (KLGates.com)

  • Approval of PG&E Corp.'s bankruptcy plan may get delayed because of a fight among lawyers for fire victims, as some want to push for a better deal from the California power giant. (Bloomberg News )

  • The approval of CVS Health Corp.’s giant merger with Aetna Inc. last year led to a nearly $23.2 million payday for the acquirer’s top in-house lawyer, Thomas Moriarty. That’s more than double what he got in 2018. (BLAW)

  • Roche Cyrulnik Freedman and Selendy & Gay filed 11 federal class actions against four of the world’s largest crypto-asset exchanges and seven major digital token issuers. (Bitcoin.com) (PRNewswire.com)

Laterals, Moves

  • Goodwin Procter recruited commercial litigator and white collar defense attorney Jennifer Fisherfor its California litigation and cannabis practices in San Francisco. She arrives from Duane Morris, where she led the cannabis industry practice group. (Goodwinlaw.com)

  • Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton added former Federal Trade Commission senior litigation counsel Thomas Lang as a partner in Washington in its antitrust and trade regulation practice. He’s been a partner at Morgan Lewis; and Kirkland & Ellis; and arrives most recently from Haynes and Boone. (KilpatrickTownsend.com)

  • Sheppard Mullin grabbed a Pepper Hamilton construction litigation team in New York, led by partner Ira Schulman and including associates Emily Anderson and Michelle Cuozzo. (SheppardMullin.com)

  • Katten added tax lawyer Todd Hatcher in New York as a partner in its transactional tax practice. He arrives from Paul Weiss, where he was counsel. (Katten.com)

  • Faegre Drinker hired business litigator John Ursu as a partner in its Minneapolis office. He arrives from Greene Espel. (FaegreDrinker.com)

  • Fox Rothschild hired family law attorney Laura S. Hayes as a partner in Dallas. (FoxRothschild.com)

  • Snell & Wilmer said finance and M&A lawyer Victor Roehm is returning as a partner in its new Portland, Oregon, office. He spent seven years as an associate at the firm earlier in his career and arrives back from Sussman & Shank, where he was a partner and co-chair of the banking and finance practice group. (SwLaw.com)

Promotions

  • Bressler, Amery & Ross said Fort Lauderdale-based principal Lauren Fenton-Valdivia, a business and commercial litigator, is the new chair of its diversity & inclusion committee. (Bressler.com)

In-house

  • Goldman Sachs Group Inc. recruited former Obama White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler as its global head of regulatory affairs starting later this month. She arrives most recently from Latham & Watkins, where she led the white-collar, investigations practice. (BLAW)

  • Payward Inc., the parent company of cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, recruited digital currency expert Marco Santori as its new chief legal officer. He’s a former partner at Cooley and Pillsbury Winthrop and arrives most recently from Blockchain.com. (BLAW)

Technology

  • With France requiring M&A deals to be closed remotely via electronic signature during the Covid-19 crisis, that technology could continue to get more use after the confinement is lifted, French lawyers said. (Law.com International via Legaltech News)

  • Perkins Coie’s early planning for going virtual allowed the Seattle-based firm to shift its entire firm to remote working in 10 days, starting in early March. (American Lawyer)

  • The Legal Innovators California event was rescheduled from June to Nov. 19. (Artificial Lawyer)

Legal Education

  • New Jersey’s Supreme Court said this year’s law grads will be able to practice temporarily under supervision of experienced attorneys. Several other states have been considering similar moves in response to complications in scheduling the bar exam because of Covid-19. (New Jersey Law Journal)

  • Law schools at University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and Georgetown University have said they’re adopting mandatory pass/fail grading for the spring semester, after earlier saying they wouldn’t. So now every top law school in the so-called T-14 has now made that switch. (Law.com)

To contact the correspondent on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at rMitchell@correspondent.bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Darren Bowman at dbowman@bloomberglaw.com

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