Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan has launched a new plaintiffs-side “#MeToo” practice group that will focus on representing victims of workplace sexual harassment and employment discrimination.
Partners Manisha Sheth, based in New York, and Diane Cafferata, based in Los Angeles, will lead the new team.
The practice group was launched to address the rising need for plaintiffs-side workplace sexual harassment work in the last two years following wider public awareness about the #MeToo movement. The movement has demonstrated that sexual harassment is not isolated to individuals but rather a pervasive problem across companies and industries, according to Sheth.
“We’re seeing a departure of high level executives, we’re seeing sharp stock price declines,” she said. “We’re seeing an inflection point where this misconduct is coming to light and it’s not going to be tolerated.”
In the past several years, many Big Law firms have expanded their workplace harassment defense groups, providing advice and training to employers wishing to avoid sexual harassment charges.
Quinn Emanuel also provides this kind of legal counsel, but firm founder John Quinn said in a statement that Quinn Emanuel is the only major AmLaw 100 firm actively promoting plaintiffs-side work in the area as well. He called the new practice group’s launch a “watershed event.”
Quinn Emanuel has made big moves to represent plaintiffs before. Quinn and the firm are well known for putting Wall Street giants like Citigroup and Bank of America in their crosshairs in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
“We’ve historically been on both sides of the ‘v.’ in many practice areas,” said Sheth. “We’ve seen it as an advantage to market that.”
“When we pitch to victims, we can say we have represented defendants,” she added. “We know the arguments defendants are likely to make, so we can put together a legal strategy that is more likely to prevail.”
The firm’s clients will include “individuals across the employment spectrum, across industries,” including women as well as members of any other protected class who have encountered discrimination.
Outside of the employment realm, Quinn Emanuel also expects to represent shareholders in derivative suits against company boards.
Shareholders can allege, for instance, that company management breached fiduciary duty by approving out of court settlements with victims of harassment and discrimination or by covering up patterns of misconduct at the company.
Quinn Emanuel could also tackle securities fraud suits over a company’s failure to disclose information about sexual harassment allegations that may have affected its stock price.
“Those cases are great because not only do they punish the individual wrongdoer but they also put the onus on the company to make sure such conduct isn’t pushed under the rug,” said Sheth.
The new practice group will also include a number of former prosecutors, including former chief of the Department of Justice Fraud Section Sandra Moser, former sex crimes prosecutors Diane Doolittle and Tara Lee, former federal prosecutor Duane Lyons, former federal prosecutor Harvey Wolkoff and former Middlesex County Special Assistant District Attorney Aliki Sofis, as well as former Credit Suisse Global Head of Human Resources Peter Calamari.
Sheth said her firm’s legal firepower brings to the table a “real credible threat of trial” that can result in earlier pre-litigation settlements and serve plaintiffs “really well.”