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Mets’ New Lawyers to Probe Harassment, Discrimination Claims (1)

April 1, 2021, 9:30 AM; Updated: April 1, 2021, 4:05 PM

Steven Cohen, the hedge fund manager who last year took control of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets, has new lawyers in the fold as the team takes the field Thursday on Opening Day.

Jamie Gorelick, co-chair of the crisis management and strategic response group at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in Washington, is teaming up with partner Brenda Lee, vice chair of the law firm’s anti-discrimination practice, to handle an internal review of workplace culture for the Mets.

The two lawyers, whose hire by the Mets was confirmed by two sources with knowledge of the matter, will probe allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination that mostly took place under the franchise’s previous ownership. The Athletic first reported WilmerHale’s role.

WilmerHale was hired last year to conduct a similar investigation for the University of Michigan, an assignment for which it reportedly received at least $5 million. Lee described during a 2018 panel discussion how the firm goes about such inquiries.

“When we are hired to conduct a factual investigation, our work is impartial,” she said at the time. “That’s true across all types of investigations but is especially important when dealing with such a sensitive topic like sexual misconduct—you have to see where the facts take you.”

David Cohen, a longtime in-house lawyer for the Mets who is unrelated to the team’s new owner, declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding WilmerHale’s retention. He became the team’s chief legal officer in 2019.

Reached prior to the news of WilmerHale’s mandate becoming public, Cohen also confirmed two other legal-related in-house moves by the Mets.

The team’s general counsel, Neal Kaplan, was named vice president of strategy in February. Kaplan, who has worked for the Mets for more than 18 years, didn’t respond to a request for comment. He spent over two years as general counsel, having been promoted from deputy general counsel in 2019.

Katten Muchin Rosenman associate Ennis Coble has also joined the Mets as counsel. Coble, a former college baseball player at Dartmouth College, had been a summer legal intern for the Mets in 2016. He went on to work as an associate at Alston & Bird in Atlanta and Katten in Washington before the Mets hired him in March.

New Regime

The Mets, who owe their existence to one of New York’s most prominent lawyers, the late William Shea, were sold for a reported $2.4 billion in September to Steve Cohen, founder and CEO of Stamford, Conn.-based Point72 Asset Management LP.

Debevoise & Plimpton advised Cohen on the deal after he parted ways with his former lawyers from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

Cohen subsequently ditched his reclusive nature by starting a Twitter account to engage with Mets fans who gave him the nickname “Uncle Steve” as a means of embracing an owner who could end years of losing. After a three-week hiatus due to the GameStop stock saga, Cohen returned to Twitter in late February.

That same month, Cohen saved the Mets $50 million through a debt refinancing. The move came a few weeks after the Mets fired general manager Jared Porter, who had only been hired by the team in December, following a report that he had sent explicit and unsolicited messages to a female reporter in 2016.

The Mets also parted ways in January with hitting coordinator Brian Ellis amid claims that he had inappropriate interactions with three women, similar allegations of which surfaced involving former manager Mickey Callaway.

WilmerHale will be tasked with investigating the environment surrounding those claims of misconduct, some of which were reported to employee relations manager Aubrey Wechsler. A source told Bloomberg Law that Wechsler, an attorney who now serves as director of employee engagement for the Mets, is a human resources staffer who is not a member of the team’s law department.

Cohen’s Point72 once faced a gender bias case filed by Lauren Bonner, the hedge fund’s former head of talent analytics. Bonner and Point72 settled out of court last year. Other former female employees have filed similar claims against Point72. Cohen hired WilmerHale and Gorelick in 2018 to conduct an independent assessment of Point72’s internal protocols.

Richard “Sandy” Alderson, a former general counsel of the Oakland Athletics who previously served as general manager for the Mets, was brought back by Cohen last year to be president of the team. In public remarks in March, Alderson expressed regret for lax due diligence related to Callaway’s hire.

The Mets, who signed star shortstop Francisco Lindor to a 10-year, $341 million contract Wednesday night, were set to open the 2021 season Thursday on the road against the Washington Nationals. The game has been postponed due to Covid-19.

(Updates last paragraph to note game's cancellation, Mets signing.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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