Davis Polk Moves to Narrow Black Lawyer’s Retaliation Suit

Feb. 10, 2020, 10:09 PM

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP moved to dismiss parts of a black former associate’s complaint alleging retaliation and bias Monday, and said his termination was based on performance issues and not his race.

The firm said Kaloma Cardwell was fired because senior lawyers in three different practice groups saw “similar, and increasingly troubling” problems with his performance.

Davis Polk also argued that Cardwell’s claims against individual firm lawyers should be dismissed, that any federal claims stemming from events that occurred before October 2016 were time-barred, and that he failed to allege harassment under New York state law.

Cardwell started with the firm in 2013 as a summer associate and then worked as a full-time lawyer from 2014 to 2018, his Nov. 4 complaint said. According to the complaint, he was the only black attorney hired in the firm’s 2014 class of more than 120 new associates, and one of only four black attorneys at the entire firm.

Cardwell said the firm retaliated after he personally reported discrimination. The retaliation allegedly included denying him job assignments, “sham” job reviews with “vague” critiques that were inconsistent with verbal feedback about his performance, and his eventual termination.

“The facts tell an entirely different story,” Davis Polk responded in the partial motion to dismiss. “The evidence—e.g., performance evaluations, contemporaneous email records, and work product, among other things—will demonstrate that plaintiff was not able to perform at the level expected of a Davis Polk associate and that his performance was the only reason he was asked to seek other employment.”

Davis Polk said Cardwell failed to finish his work, missed deadlines, and came to incorrect legal conclusions, among other things. In addition, “senior lawyers on plaintiff’s matters repeatedly were required to do, or redo, his work or to find replacement staffing to ensure that deadlines were met,” the firm said.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP represents Davis Polk. David Jeffries of New York and Law Offices of Martin E. Restituyo represent Cardwell.

The case is Cardwell v. Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:19-cv-10256, motion to dismiss filed 2/10/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Blake Brittain in Washington at bbrittain@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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