Polsinelli PC’s push to increase its level of diversity and inclusion was just an empty attempt to shed its reputation as a Midwestern, “good old boys” law firm, for which its 800-plus workforce pay “the real-world consequences,” a gay former partner charges in a federal lawsuit in Texas.
That includes Polisnelli’s recent creation of a chief diversity and inclusion officer position, Trey Monsour said Tuesday in his suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
The person hired into that job has no real power and instead must collaborate with the firm’s leadership regarding D&I goals, strategy, and implementation, Monsour says.
Like its avowed commitment to increase the hiring of minority attorneys and staffers, Polsinelli’s hiring of a D&I officer was “nothing more than a marketing ploy,” the lawsuit alleges.
According to the suit, Monsour is a gay, 58-year-old “prominent, well-respected bankruptcy attorney” who was hired as an equity partner in the firm’s then-newly founded Houston office in 2017. He immediately raised Polsinelli’s reputation as his hard work and dedication led in 2018 to the firm’s first-ever recognition by U.S. News and World Report as “tier 1" in the bankruptcy field, the suit says.
That success came despite Monsour being treated differently than similarly situated non-LGBTQ Polsinelli employees from the outset, the suit says. He was denied the assistance of junior attorneys and administrative support that almost all other newly hired partners received, the suit says.
It also came without any financial reward as his “compensation precipitously fell year over year” and his partnership was eventually “de-equitized,” Monsour says.
He complained about the bias and firm leadership responded by tasking a newly hired younger heterosexual female lawyer to try to dig up dirt on him, according to the complaint.
She failed to do so but was soon tapped to replace him anyway after he was terminated last year, with the firm saying only that his replacement and others found him “difficult to work with,” Monsour says. The real reasons were his sexual orientation and age, he says.
That Polsinelli’s D&I focus was a smoke screen was revealed by reports that in 2019 that at least 72% of its partners were White heterosexual males and 22% were White heterosexual females, the suit says.
Less than 2% were members of the LGBTQ community, none were disabled, and at most 7% represented other minority groups, according to the suit.
“These allegations are outrageous,” Polsinelli Chairman and CEO Chase Simmons said Thursday in a statement. “The firm will vigorously defend itself against these erroneous and defamatory charges. We will do so with the facts, relying primarily on Mr. Monsour’s own words and actions. They will paint a very different story.”
Causes of Action: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; fraudulent inducement in hiring.
Relief: Compensatory damages, including for emotional distress and reputational harm; back pay, including all raises and benefits to which he would have been entitled; liquidated damages; punitive damages; attorneys’ fees and costs.
Attorneys: Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors represent Monsour.
The case is Monsour v. Polsinelli PC, S.D. Tex., No. 4:21-cv-01046, complaint filed 3/30/21.