Law Firm Facing Gay-Bias Suit Fires Back

NEW YORK – Forget the reports of rising salaries for law-firm associates. The story that seems to be gripping the corporate law world these days is the escalating battle between white-shoe firm Sullivan & Cromwell and a former associate who claims he was harassed because he is gay. Aaron B. Charney, who until recently worked in the firm’s mergers and acquisitions practice (ranked No. 2 for merger-advisory work last year), sued the firm last month, accusing several partners of discriminating against him and then papering over his complaints.
Sullivan, which has denied his allegations, responded last week with a suit of its own, naming Mr. Charney as the defendant.
In a complaint filed Thursday in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Sullivan accused Mr. Charney of repeatedly and deliberately revealing confidential information about the firm and its clients as part of his legal fight. Sullivan also suggested that Mr. Charney leaked internal documents about “morale issues,” kept by a partner in a nearby office, to The Wall Street Journal.
From the complaint:
The partner had kept a copy of this document in a file relating to confidential firm matters. This presentation is missing from the partner’s file, and the file appears to have been put out of order. The Wall Street Journal Online Law Blog, on January 24, 2007, reported that a handwritten note on the copy of the presentation obtained by the Journal said, “We are breaking away from the pack in the wrong direction.” Charney, at paragraph 63 of his Complaint, alleged the following: “As one S&C partner describes S&C’s rankings, S&C ‘is breaking away from the pack in the wrong direction[.]’”
The firm also claims that Mr. Charney asked his secretary to copy every document in the folders of his firm’s e-mail account. When she said that it would be easier to copy those files to a CD or DVD — but that would require firm permission — Mr. Charney insisted on paper copies. The secretary began to do so but stopped after becoming suspicious, according to the complaint.
It is almost unheard of in legal circles for an associate to sue his or her own firm, if only because such a move is essentially a career-ender. In his suit against Sullivan, Mr. Charney accused members of the firm of demanding he be fired for having an ‘’unnatural’’ gay relationship with another Sullivan associate; Mr. Charney denied having the relationship.
The Journal’s Law Blog notes that the case may already be having wider repercussions: The head of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Law Association, who initially said he was inclined to side with Sullivan despite not knowing the details of the case, has since stepped down.
As for Mr. Charney, he was told last month that he should not report to Sullivan’s office while an internal investigation was in progress. But he has apparently been terminated: Sullivan’s complaint, which is dated Feb. 1, states that he was an associate at the firm “until today.”
from The New York Times

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