Sullivan Involvement in Wrongful Termination Suit

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Democratic House candidate Rip Sullivan's role in a wrongful termination/gender discrimination suit.


<ul><li><p>Sullivan Involvement in Wrongful Termination / Gender Discrimination Suit </p><p>Highlights </p><p> When an associate (Danielle Cesarano) received a burn that caused physiological damage and </p><p>impaired her ability to work, Sullivan pressured her to return to work earlier than her doctor </p><p>recommended and made little accommodation of her reduced hours requirements </p><p> Sullivan failed to rotate her back onto her prior cases and did not make new case assignments </p><p>from her, arguably keeping her billable hours low enough to justify termination </p><p> Imposed an anomalously high 200 billable hours a month standard on her, apparently as a sort </p><p>of catch up requirement to make up for her medical leave, and threatened termination if she </p><p>did not achieve this goal </p><p> Whereas Sullivan was patient with able-bodied male associates with low billable hours and </p><p>made excuses for them, he refused to take Cesaranos circumstances, or her efforts to keep </p><p>total hours up, into account </p><p> Sullivan instructed Cesarano to downwardly revise her actual billable hours, which prompted </p><p>another partner to say Sullivan was playing games and that the head of the Litigation </p><p>Department would shit a brick if he knew that Rip had told you to do those things </p><p> He also postponed her performance evaluation, with the firm initially withholding the </p><p>evaluation even after it was finally conducted, giving her no opportunity to respond to or make </p><p>changes based upon its findings </p><p> When Cesarano confided to Sullivan that she felt she was being discriminated against on the </p><p>basis of her disability, he responded that he did not like her reference to discrimination rather </p><p>than addressing her concerns </p><p> Sullivan told Cesarano that if youre still injured, youre of no use to anyone </p><p> He also told her she was difficult to staff because her injury made her unreliable and that </p><p>the firm might not be able to keep carrying her </p><p> He was dismissive of a capital murder case she handled pro bono, dismissing it as a little pro </p><p>bono matter </p><p> Ultimately, he was the person who recommended her termination </p><p>Case Background </p><p>In April 2001, while attending a trial training program for employer Reed Smith, then-third year </p><p>associate Danielle Cesarano sustained a severe burn injury when a defective coffeemaker overflowed </p><p>onto her right hand, sustaining nerve damage and a condition diagnosed as Reflex Sympathetic </p><p>Dystrophy / Complex Regional Pain System.1 This allegedly resulted in permanent serve pain and </p><p>substantial physical limitations (At times, the pain is so intense that Ms. Cesarano feels as if her hand is </p><p> 1 Plaintiff Danielle R. Cesaranos Opposition to Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Danielle R. Cesarano v. </p><p>Reed Smith, LLP, Civil Action No 03-08644 at 1-2 (Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Civil Division, filed Oct 22, 2004) (Opposition to Summary Judgment). </p></li><li><p>on fire. At still other times, part of Ms. Cesaranos hand goes completely numb, and is rendered </p><p>useless).2 </p><p>A month later, Ms. Cesarano was selected to lead an intensive document review, during which she </p><p>alleged exacerbation of her injury, but for which the head of the firms Litigation Department </p><p>commended her for a terrific job.3 After this, however, she was forced to take a medical leave of </p><p>absence, during which time the firm temporarily removed her from payroll, and upon her return, she </p><p>alleged the firm refused to provide reasonable accommodations (e.g., voice-recognition software, an </p><p>ergonomic chair), intentionally limited her assignments, treated her inappropriately, established </p><p>unrealistic goals to cause her to fail, and ultimately forced her out of the firm,4 despite more senior </p><p>associates with higher salaries providing fewer billable hours without being drummed out of the firm.5 </p><p>Rip Sullivan was her Practice Group Leader,6 and as her supervisor, features prominently in the narrative </p><p>and the subsequent litigation. He is alleged to have made a number of dismissive comments and was the </p><p>driving force in her termination, in which she alleges disparate treatment with male associates in </p><p>Sullivans practice group, along with discrimination on the basis of her disability. </p><p>The case dragged on for over eight years from October 24, 2003 to December 2, 2011, with Cesarano </p><p>alleging violations of the D.C. Human Rights Act regarding the firms response to her disability, wrongful </p><p>termination given the circumstances of her dismissal, and gender discrimination on the grounds that less </p><p>productive able-bodied males were tolerated while her employment was terminated.7 The case was </p><p>initially dismissed as time barred, but on appeal, the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed the Superior Courts </p><p>ruling on applicable statutes of limitations8 and remanded the case to the Superior Court for </p><p>reconsideration on the merits. Ultimately, the parties settled out of court on undisclosed terms.9 </p><p>Circuit Court Factual Summary </p><p>Although details of the case are better gleaned from other filings, and most of the following is reiterated </p><p>in other sections below, the factual summary of the D.C. Court of Appeals is worth quoting at length due </p><p>to its authoritative status. As a general summary of the case record: </p><p>The record in this case reveals that on October 24, 2003, Ms. Cesarano filed a complaint against </p><p>her employer, Reed Smith. She alleged that she was employed as an associate around March </p><p>20, 2000, and was assigned to the litigation department. On April 29, 2001, while she was </p><p> 2 Id. at 10. Be aware that she apparently reached a settlement with the hotel and the coffeemaker manufacturer, </p><p>so she could be accused of being overly litigious. 3 Id. at 2. </p><p>4 Id. at 2-3. </p><p>5 Plaintiffs Statement of Material Facts at Issue, Danielle R. Cesarano v. Reed Smith, LLP, Civil Action No 03-</p><p>08644 at 39-46 (Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Civil Division, filed Dec Oct, 2004) (Material Facts at Issue). 6 Opposition to Summary Judgment, supra, at 3. </p><p>7 Material Facts at Issue, supra, at 39. </p><p>8 Vanderford, Richard. Ex-Reed Smith Attorneys Disability Suit Revived. Law360, March 4, 2010. Available at </p><p> 9 See docket for Danielle R. Cesarano v. Reed Smith, LLP, 2003 CA 08644 B. </p></li><li><p>attending a Reed Smith trial training program, Ms. Cesarano's dominant hand was burned. As </p><p>a result of her right hand injury, she developed complex regional pain syndrome/reflex </p><p>sympathetic dystrophy, a physiological disorder affecting the neurological body system. The </p><p>disorder, characterized as permanent, caused extreme pain and resulted in medical limitations </p><p>on her activities. She required physical therapy, occupational hand therapy, nerve block </p><p>procedures, and she had to take prescribed medication. </p><p>Based upon the recommendation of her physician, Ms. Cesarano took a leave of absence from </p><p>June 13 to July 12, 2001, for treatment of her hand injury. During her leave of absence, Ms. </p><p>Cesarano requested accommodations by Reed Smith for her disability. Specifically, she </p><p>requested (1) a reduced-hour schedule, (2) voice recognition software, and (3) an operator's </p><p>headset for her telephone. Upon her return to Reed Smith, Ms. Cesarano worked four hours </p><p>per day. Around July 19, 2001, she complained about the difficulty of working without voice </p><p>recognition software. In response, Richard Sullivan, her supervisor at the law firm, allegedly </p><p>informed Ms. Cesarano that if she was still injured, she was of no use to anyone. Ms. </p><p>Cesarano experienced difficulty in obtaining sufficient work assignments at Reed Smith to meet </p><p>the billing expectations of the firm. </p><p>On July 20, 2001, Ms. Cesarano complained to her employer that she was receiving neither </p><p>reasonable accommodation for her disability, nor enough work to generate billable hours. Reed </p><p>Smith's managing partner of the firm's District of Columbia office, Douglas Spaulding, advised </p><p>Ms. Cesarano that she had experienced a stutter step in her career, that the firm could not </p><p>carry her, and that she might be pushed out of the firm 10 </p><p>On allegations of gender discrimination: </p><p>Count V, entitled, Sex discrimination in violation of the [DCHRA], contained allegations </p><p>concerning (1) the differential treatment of males and females in the firm; (2) hostile treatment </p><p>of female associates by a female partner; (3) verbal abuse by a male partner; (4) yelling, name </p><p>calling and retaliation by two male partners and a female partner when she asked the female </p><p>partner, in November 2000, to be relieved of working with the male partner; (5) her support by </p><p>other members of the firm and the assignment of adequate billable work until her injury; (6) </p><p>removal from one of her cases and replacement by a male associate; (7) instructions around </p><p>Winter 2002, to follow a strategy of writing off hours that purportedly would help her gain </p><p>respect at the firm; (8) instruction around March 2002 to seek the advice [of] one of the </p><p>guys' to verify the legal research conducted and the advice provided by [her] on a specific </p><p>project; (9) her termination from the firm (Reed Smith terminated [her] in whole or in part </p><p>because of [her] gender and because of the objections she raised as to her treatment by [a male </p><p> 10</p><p> Danielle R. Cesarano v. Reed Smith, LLP, Case No. 07-CV-1065 at 2-3 (District of Columbia Court of Appeals, decided Mar 4, 2010). </p></li><li><p>and female] partner); and (10) alleged disparate treatment and retaliation based on her </p><p>sex.11 </p><p>On reasonable accommodations: </p><p>Ms. Cesarano made two requests to Reed Smith for reasonable accommodation-one during her </p><p>June/July 2001 leave of absence for a reduced-hour schedule, voice recognition software and an </p><p>operator's headset for her telephone; and the other in March 2002 for an ergonomic evaluation </p><p>of her worksite, which was completed on June 6, 2002. On September 6, 2002, in her self-</p><p>evaluation, Ms. Cesarano stated that the firm had denied her reasonable accommodation.12 </p><p>[] Mr. Sullivan related to her the need for 200 billable hours per month before he could </p><p>recommend her retention. In response, Ms. Cesarano expressed concern to Mr. Sullivan about </p><p>[his] statement given the medical restrictions on her workday. Mr. Sullivan interpreted Ms. </p><p>Cesarano's reaction as an indication that she could not do the work. Ms. Cesarano repeated </p><p>her work restrictions and her request for accommodations.13 </p><p>Billable Hours and Evaluations </p><p>Due to her injury, Cesarano took two leaves of absence in 2001, the first from mid-June to mid-July and </p><p>the second from early August through late October on the advice of her physician, and her hours were </p><p>strictly limited throughout that year. Early in January 2002, her physician authorizedand she promptly </p><p>began and exceededeight hour work days,14 a substantial improvement but still far lower than what is </p><p>expected of Big Law associates. Consequently, both her total hours and billable hours lagged standard </p><p>expectations for the firm. </p><p>Cesarano alleges that (1) in evaluating her performance, Sullivan and others made no allowance for her </p><p>disability; (2) they did not take dramatically improving chargeable hours into account; (3) the firm, and </p><p>Sullivan in particular, conspired to keep her hours low by assigning her few cases and then often ones </p><p>with billing restrictions; (4) despite her obvious need to improve her chargeables, Sullivan instructed her </p><p>to write down billable hours; and (5) the firm delayed her evaluation to her detriment, giving her little </p><p>opportunity to improve before her termination, which was already a fait accompli. She also allegedas </p><p>is detailed laterthat able-bodied male associates with lower billable hours and worse performance </p><p>were retained. </p><p> 11</p><p> Id. at 7. 12</p><p> Id. at 14. However, the appellate court held that this complaint was time barred, as we see no indication that she requested a new and different accommodation and that Ms. Cesarano should have recognized by June 6, 2002, or within a few days thereafter, that Reed Smith had failed to grant some of her requests for reasonable accommodations, but did not file her complaint until October 24, 2003. 13</p><p> Id. at 3. 14</p><p> Brief for the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association as Amicus Curiae in Support of Appellant Urging Reversal, Danielle R. Cesarano v. Reed Smith, LLP, Case No. 07-CV-1065 at 4 (District of Columbia Court of Appeals, filed Apr 7, 2008) (MWELA Amicus). </p></li><li><p>While part-time, Cesarano contended that she was told by one Reed Smith partner not to expect </p><p>assignments until she was back full time, and by another not to even seek billable work because she </p><p>might be unable to handle it on a part-time schedule. After cleared by her doctor to work eight hours </p><p>per day, but with substantial restrictions on writing and keyboard use, the firm continued to assign little </p><p>billable work, and she was not rotated back onto cases on which she had been working prior to medical </p><p>leave.15 </p><p>After being cleared for eight hour days, Cesarano seemed to be getting more than [her] share of </p><p>assignments wherein [she] was told there were billable hour restrictions, such that Reed Smith </p><p>provided her with quite a bit of discrete research assignments that were both limited in duration and </p><p>limited in the number of hours [she] was permitted to bill, on top of being told to write off [her] time </p><p>even with these assignments and others.16 </p><p>Initially upon her return, for instance, one of her principle assigned responsibilitiesselected for her by </p><p>the head of the Litigation Departmentwas a pro bono case.17 Cesarano advised Sullivan of her need for </p><p>billable hours but continued to receive limited, short-term assignments while other associates remained </p><p>overloaded with billable assignments.18 </p><p>Worse still, Sullivan and his Deputy Practice Group Leader both instructed Cesarano to write off her time </p><p>for various reasons, fully aware that she was below the firms targets.19 Learning later of these </p><p>instructions, a partner based in Pittsburgh, Efrem Grail, told her (per her deposition, informed by notes </p><p>she took memorializing the conversation), I dont know what kind of games Rip [Sullivan] is playing </p><p>but you should absolutely write down all the time you bill. It is not your responsibility to be doing </p><p>what they are advising you to do. And Tom McGough [the Head of the Litigation Department] would </p><p>quote-unquote, shit a brick if he knew that Rip had told you to do those things.20 </p><p>(Interestingly, Sullivan actually favorably cited Grails political workkeeping Nader off the ballot in </p><p>2004during his 2007 campaign.2122 Grail got caught up in the Bonusgate scandal in Pennsylvania </p><p>involving state employees being paid bonuses for conducting political business on government time.23 </p><p>Specif...</p></li></ul>