A partner at employment law giant Ogletree Deakins is accused in a new lawsuit of sexually harassing a junior attorney and retaliating when the younger man complained.
The former staff attorney filed his complaint Feb. 21 in the California Superior Court as “John Doe” because of the explicit nature of the allegations he is lodging against the law firm. He says that other Ogletree attorneys and staff were unresponsive and unhelpful when he reached out for assistance.
Ogletree is currently defending a sex-bias lawsuit brought by one of its partners, Dawn Knepper. Saying the firm systemically pays women less than their male peers and passes them over for promotions, Knepper is seeking $300 million in damages on behalf of a proposed class of female attorneys.
“Equal opportunity has been a core principle of Ogletree Deakins since the firm’s founding, and we do not tolerate harassment or discrimination of any kind,” Ogletree told Bloomberg Law when reached for comment on Doe’s harassment complaint. “While we take the allegations filed by a former staff attorney very seriously, the salacious nature of these allegations do not make them true and cannot change the facts.”
Doe and Knepper’s lawsuits combined demonstrate an “institutional issue” of disparate treatment of the employment law firm’s own employees, Anthony Nguyen told Bloomberg Law. Nguyen is a partner at Shegerian & Associates, the law firm representing Doe.
The #MeToo movement has centered around stories of women enduring harassment from men, but Nguyen said he believes the broad strokes of the social campaign can help empower victims of same-sex harassment to speak out.
The Office ‘Unicorn’
Doe worked in Ogletree’s Los Angeles office from July 2015 to July 2017. Defendant Johnnie James, a gay Ogletree partner, engaged Doe, a gay Latino male, in multiple inappropriate conversations about sex and extramarital affairs soon after Doe started his job, according to the complaint.
Doe says throughout the two years he worked at Ogletree, James shared explicit photos and videos with Doe, hinted he wanted to have sex with Doe, and insinuated that Doe should flirt with certain male Ogletree clients.
When he complained to another partner, Doe says James stopped assigning work to him for nine months.
Doe says another partner referred to him as a “unicorn” for being the only gay Latino in the office. Doe’s complaint says that James also called Doe the “the ‘cute latino.’”
Alongside his claims of harassment and retaliation, Doe says he was underpaid for the work he performed. According to his complaint, his efforts to redress his concerns about his pay and James’ unwanted attention were ignored or rebuffed by Ogletree personnel.
Ogletree Disputes Doe’s Details
Ogletree disputes Doe’s account of events, saying he never complained of alleged sexual harassment prior to leaving the firm.
“We promptly and fully investigated these allegations once they they were brought to our attention,” Ogletree said. The outcome of the firm’s investigation’s outcome was that Doe’s claims were “false, unsubstantiated or deficient.”
Doe’s low pay, according to Ogletree, was the result of his poor work performance and “consistently failing to reach his annual billing requirements by wide margins.”
Ogletree tells Bloomberg Law it will “confidently defend the firm against these baseless claims, as we remain steadfast in our commitment to a safe working environment and equal opportunity for all.”
The case is John Doe v. Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., Cal. Super. Ct., No. BC695028, complaint filed 2/21/18.