14 October 2019

DLA Piper under fire

Former ethics officer and student protest groups target two-pronged attack on DLA Piper, according to reports by Bloomberg News.

A former professional responsibility counsel Leah Christensen has written an open letter in support of her support for partner Vanina Guerrero, who recently accused a fellow partner at DLA Piper of sexually assaulting her.

“Told the truth”

Ms Christensen, who said she left the firm because she felt she “wasn’t respected,” according to a statement to Bloomberg News. She wrote an open letter dated October in which she states Ms Guerrero had “told the truth” about the firm’s “culture of intimidation and oppression” and about Louis Lehot, the partner Ms Guerrero alleges sexually assaulted her on several occasions and then retaliated against her. Ms Christensen wrote, “My firsthand experience with Mr. Lehot included him yelling, cursing, and making demands upon me or those with whom I worked on a frequent basis,” adding “Until taking the job at DLA Piper, I had never experienced such behaviour from another attorney.” In an internal memo was obtained by Bloomberg News, three executives stated the firm is treating Ms Guerrero’s claim with “the utmost seriousness,” but the firm declined to make a statement to the news outlet. Ms Guerrero has filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and has publicly asked the firm to release her from a mandatory arbitration agreement in order to bring her claims publicly in court.

Student protest

The allegations by Ms Guerrero has spurred law students into action, mounting a protest against DLA Piper’s use of mandatory arbitration agreements, which they say allows employers to hide misconduct like sexual assault and discrimination. Students protested outside of offices in Boston, New York, and Washington DC. Demonstrators from Harvard, Columbia, NYU and Georgetown law schools handed out leaflets as part of a student-led initiative against “harassment and discrimination in the legal profession,” named the People’s Parity Project. DLA Piper has said it is aware of Guerrero’s allegations and that it has taken steps to investigate them, and in an emailed statement a firm spokesman said regarding the protests there “are advantages and disadvantages to every type of dispute resolution process,” and explained “It has been our experience as a firm that arbitration is a fair and efficient way to resolve internal disputes, and one that benefits all parties in what are often sensitive matters for everyone involved.” However, critics argue arbitration hearings often favour the employer. A number of firms have dropped arbitration clauses in response to student-led pressure.