Companies hit with discrimination and harassment lawsuits increasingly look to avoid public battles by settling, which has been good for the Wigdor Law Firm and women it represents, Douglas Wigdor says.
The Wigdor firm had its second-best year on record in 2020, the firm’s founder said. Although courts were closed and litigation slowed during the coronavirus pandemic, remote video technology and mediation kept cases moving. The firm had its best year in 2017, he said.
The #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter protests created “an atmosphere where companies are more inclined to resolve matters than to fight them in the public,” Wigdor told Bloomberg Law in a recent interview. “They’ve become more receptive to the idea of ‘Let’s talk and resolve.’”
Wigdor is best known for taking on Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and major corporations like Uber Technologies Inc., Deloitte, and BlackRock Inc. He caught media attention last year for briefly representing Tara Reade, a former congressional staffer who accused President Joe Biden of sexual assault.
He declined to say how much revenue the firm brought in last year—“there is already a big enough target on my back.” Settlements in high stakes cases often come with confidentiality and non-disclosure requirements anyway, Wigdor said.
Corporate lawyers Kate Bischoff and Jonathan Segal also say they’ve seen a shift in favor of settlement by companies they represent.
“When you get a case that involves harassment, there’s always been a public relations component to it,” Bischoff, a Minnesota attorney, said. “The PR risk now is higher than it ever was before.”
The pandemic is also nudging some companies toward settlement, according to Segal, a lawyer for Duane Morris in Philadelphia.
“For some clients, even if they didn’t do something wrong, there was a greater willingness last year to resolve the matter if they could see a possibly valid legal argument on the other side,” Segal said. “Many companies were fighting for their existential existence because of Covid, so there was increased desire to resolve matters early.”
The Weinstein saga prompted a push in state legislatures across the country to limit or ban nondisclosure agreements for people suing for harassment and discrimination, to prevent them from protecting serial abusers.
Wigdor said many of his firm’s clients still prefer to keep the matters confidential, or at least are willing to accept gag orders to resolve a case.
“Clients often want their anonymity preserved,” Wigdor said. “If there was a ban on confidentiality, very few cases would be settled.”