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Davis Polk ‘Weaponized’ Reviews, Fired Black Associate Says (1)

March 3, 2020, 4:43 PMUpdated: March 3, 2020, 9:39 PM

A black former associate accusing Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP of bias and discrimination because of his race named another partner in the firm’s corporate/mergers and acquisitions group as a defendant to his suit, New York federal court records show.

Kaloma Cardwell says John Butler was also involved in the discrimination and retaliation that culminated in his termination after four years as an associate in Davis Polk’s New York office. The bias was a result of the firm’s “rigging workplace systems,” and “unlawfully weaponizing” and altering its conclusion about his performance and its evaluation processes, Cardwell says in an amended complaint filed late Monday with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Butler joins fellow corporate/M&A partners John Bick, William Chudd, Sophia Hudson, Harold Birnbaum, Daniel Brass, and Brian Wolfe, and Davis Polk managing partner Thomas Reid as individual defendants in the case. The amended complaint also adds claims of racial harassment under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; racial discrimination, retaliation, and harassment under 42 U.S.C. Section 1981; aiding and abetting race discrimination, retaliation, and harassment under the New York State Human Rights Law; and aiding and abetting race discrimination and retaliation under the New York City Human Rights Law.

As in the original complaint, Cardwell also accuses the defendants of race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and the New York City law, and race discrimination, retaliation, and harassment under the New York State law.

He initially sued in November, and Davis Polk and the seven original individual defendants responded Feb. 10 with a motion seeking to dismiss many of Cardwell’s claims as untimely or otherwise lacking. Cardwell was terminated because senior lawyers in three different practice groups saw the same shortcomings in his performance, they said.

But the review process was a rigged “sham” that was turned against him, Cardwell says in the new complaint. That includes Butler’s and Bick’s failures to communicate with him as part of the firm’s career adviser program despite their roles as advisers, he says. The mistreatment occurred even though he previously had “spent a significant amount of time educating Mr. Reid on how he had experienced interpersonal and institutional discrimination at the Firm,” Cardwell says.

The new complaint includes charts detailing Davis Polk’s alleged shifting conclusions and explanations of Cardwell’s performance, the firm’s interest in him and his future at Davis Polk, and his hours, assignments, and staffing, which he alleges were cut as part of the scheme to get rid of him.

The defendants, in the process, ultimately “dismantled” the discrimination measures and mitigation mechanisms Davis Polk “specifically designed with Black associates in mind,” in contrast to the diversity and inclusion efforts the firm touted when it recruited him away from other firms, Cardwell says.

In a statement, Davis Polk said: “The amended complaint repackages the same narrative contained in the original complaint. Nothing in the amended complaint changes the fact that Mr. Cardwell was terminated for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. As we have said previously, the case is meritless, and we will continue to vigorously defend this litigation until it is dismissed.”

David Jeffries and Law Offices of Martin E. Restituyo represent Cardwell. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP represents Davis Polk and the seven original individual defendants. No attorney had filed an appearance yet on behalf of Butler.

The case is Cardwell v. Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:19-cv-10256, amended complaint 3/2/20.

(Updated to add comment from Davis Polk.)

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com