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December 21, 2009 3:15 PM

Ex-Fried Frank Associate Sues Firm, Claiming Harassment, Phony Reviews

Posted by Zach Lowe

A former associate plans to file a wide-ranging $50 million lawsuit against Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, accusing the firm of denying her a promotion to partner because she is a lesbian and of doing nothing to stop higher-ups from harassing her, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Am Law Daily. 

The former associate, Julie Kamps, plans to file the lawsuit this week in federal court in Manhattan. Kamps, who previously filed a less detailed complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claims that a female partner at Fried Frank sexually harassed her. She also alleges that the firm instructs lawyers to write exaggerated negative performance reviews about associates the firm wants out. 

A firm spokeswoman did not immediately provide a comment in response to the suit. Kamps, a graduate of Harvard Law School, worked at Fried Frank from 1998 until January of this year, when the firm terminated her in the middle of an arbitration hearing.

In the complaint, to be filed this week, Kamps claims that Janice Mac Avoy, a litigation partner, "knowingly made unwelcome sexual advances and sexual comments to Kamps, both alone and in the presence of others." Mac Avoy allegedly "told Kamps it was 'the biggest regret of her life' that she had not slept with Kamps 'when she had the chance,'" and discussed various sexual acts with Kamps, the complaint states. Kamps also alleges that Mac Avoy encouraged her to "wear women's clothes," because William McGuinness, chair of the firm's litigation department, believed Kamps's preference for men's shirts could "make clients uncomfortable." 

The complaint names both Mac Avoy and McGuinness as defendants. It also names David Hennes, a litigation partner who, Kamps alleges, asked her to write a negative review of an attorney that the firm was "trying to get rid of," the complaint says. Kamps refused to write the review; she claims Hennes began harassing her as a result of her refusal. She claims Hennes laughed at her after assigning an underperforming associate to one of her matters, and she alleges Hennes indicated he was "watching" Kamps by "pointing to his eyes and then at Kamps." 

As we've previously reported, Fried Frank terminated Kamps in the middle of an arbitration session in January, during which Bettina Plevan, a well-known employment attorney at Proskauer Rose, represented Fried Frank. It is unclear why Kamps was fired at that time, and Kamps claims in her lawsuit that she has never received a negative performance evaluation or a solid reason for her dismissal. Kamps claims the firm's alleged mistreatment of her got worse in late 2007, when she complained about the firm's failure to promote her. The firm responded to the complaint by hiring an outside consultant to conduct an internal investigation. In her complaint, Kamps calls the investigation "woefully inadequate." She says the investigator asked partners to verify her allegations and considered the investigation over after the partners denied Kamps's initial claims. She also says the firm began removing her from billable matters and assigning her nonbillable work. 

In addition to $50 million, Kamps is seeking to be reinstated to Fried Frank as a partner. Kamps is representing herself in the matter. The complaint also names Justin Spendlove, the firm's managing partner, and 100 other John Doe defendants. Kamps declined to comment, other than to say she has not yet decided whether she will represent herself in the case. The complaint does not list an attorney other than Kamps.

In a separate proceeding, the EEOC issued Kamps a notice of right to sue in November.

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Not unfamiliar tactics to rid firm of people deemed priblamatic for many reasons

Nothing like suing the people you want to work with to ingrain yourself with them. Hmmm, does employment-at-will exist in this country or have we finally moved to anyone with a plausible claim is guaranteed employment for life? Sue for money, not the right to piss off the people you work with on a daily basis.

I disagree with DJ. Just because a firm has a couple of bad apples (and they happen to be at the top, in employment-decision-making positions)doesn't mean the entire firm is horrible to work at.

Ms. Kamp might have found that working at Fried Frank was a positive experience - except for the sexual harrassment and underhanded employment practices.

Fix those with a lawsuit and then she'd find it to be an excellent place to work. Hell, she might even be doing others a favor in helping to rid the firm of miscreants.

Art M.: Agreed completely. This is the way the law is supposed to work...

I also agree with Art M. She lasted at Fried Frank for 10 years- obviously she was fairly successful and, at least on some level, enjoyed the work. Who knows if her allegations are true or not- but, after eight years in a big firm, some of them are entirely believable to me. Lawsuits like this are critical to social development.

I admire and support Julie's efforts and am truly sorry for what happened to her. It is not uncommon (if not usual) to find a way to get rid of associates in Big Law just because the partners do not want to share the pie. Subtle ways such as refusing to give work to an associate is just one of them. It is time these ludicrous procedures stop and it is also time to get rid of the people who are unwilling to accept that others are excellent lawyers (no matter if female, gay, black or jewish) and use this as a reason to fire somebody. Julie, I hope you can make a difference.

A number of other terminated female employees of Fried Frank (who do not happen to be gay) currently have active cases against the firm, and allege issues and/or patterns of harassment and/or discrimination relevant to the Julie Kamps lawsuit. In addition, two other female former employees of Fried Frank filed successful discrimination lawsuits against the firm earlier in the decade. One of the lawsuits, which was based on age discrimination, forced Fried Frank to end its harassment of an older secretary, thus making it possible for her to continue working at the firm until she retired voluntarily. The other lawsuit against Fried Frank, which alleged racial discrimination, forced Fried Frank to settle with a black secretary named Bobbie Fisher, whom it had fired without citing any performance or other problems, as reported in The Amsterdam News. Also, I know Julie Kamps professionally from working with her at Fried Frank, and have no reason whatsoever to doubt her honesty and integrity.

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