Friday, September 9, 2011

Lawyers Getting Sued

Don't worry, the Web 2.0 in the Workplace series will continue tomorrow, as planned.

In recent months, there has been a series of major law firms getting sued by former employees.  Last month I made an entry about a first year associate of a major New York firm suing for wrongful dismissal.  A few months ago, Mathews Dinsdale & Clark LLP, a major Toronto firm and a major player in Canadian labour law, made headlines because of various issues and litigation continuing from apparently inappropriate behaviour at a wild and crazy party it hosted in 2007, after its annual labour arbitrarion competition.  (See this Law Times story for details.)  Before that, there was Jaime Laskis, who worked at the New York office of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, which is one of Canada's largest law firms, and who made headlines litigating against the firm, alleging gender discrimination.

In fact, over the last year or two, there have been myriad claims made against a variety of major law firms across the country, based in sexual harassment, discrimination on the basis of sex, and poisoned work environments.

Pinkofskys, the most notable Canadian criminal law firm (now known as Rusonik, O'Connor, Ross, Gordham & Angelini...against the grain, when most firms are shortening their names) has been added on the list, as former office assistant Tracy Francis is suing in wrongful dismissal.  The firm's statement of defence alleges that Francis had engaged in persistent and vexatious disparaging remarks about one of the lawyers in the firm, calling him, acccording to the Toronto Star story on the topic, "“tyrant,” “idiot,” “weasel,” “snivelling b---h,” “dump truck” — a term referring to lawyers who plead out clients rather than litigate — and an “ass.”".  In the plaintiff's Reply, Francis denied those allegations, and noted that it was the firm's lawyers themselves who maintained a culture in which disparaging marks were acceptable.

Really, it isn't uncommon for assistants to badmouth lawyers.  I've heard the assistants use some pretty harsh words about them (and not always without good reason).  And I'm sure I haven't heard the worst of it.  That said, while I've never heard the term "dump truck" in quite that context, it sounds like it would be a litigator's insult for another, and it is hard to imagine why an assistant would be using it as a pejorative.

It's probably not true that all of these cases are well-founded.  But likewise, it probably isn't true that none of them are, either.  Law firms have a terrible reputation when it comes to human-rights-related sensitivity.  Even though female law grads are as numerous (if not moreso) as men, all the studies continue to show that the legal profession is having a hard time retaining women.  It's a real problem that the profession on the whole needs to overcome, and these major firms need to be taking the lead in the culture shift.


This blog is not intended to, and does not, provide legal advice to any person in respect of any particular legal issue, and does not create a solicitor-client relationship with any readers, but rather provides general legal information. If you have a legal issue or possible legal issue, contact a lawyer. 

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