The Firms

March 25, 2010 9:39 PM

What Did Clifford Chance Offer to Pay to Settle a Discrimination Case?

Posted by Zach Lowe

Clifford Chance offered to pay an ex-associate $350,000 to settle a lawsuit in which she accused the firm of discriminating against her, firing her, and then making it difficult for her to land work at other firms, according to confidential settlement records obtained by The Am Law Daily.

The plaintiff in the case, Caroline Memnon, originally sued both Clifford Chance and Sullivan & Worcester in early 2008, a year after Sullivan fired her and nearly six years after Clifford Chance asked her to resign, court records show. Memnon settled with the firms late last year, but she has moved to re-open the cases, according to court records. Memnon, who declined to comment when reached by phone Thursday, claims in court papers now under seal that her former lawyers at the firm Doman Davis coerced her into settling against her will during a hearing in late November 2009. In the sealed papers, Memnon says she suffered an anxiety attack at the hearing, resulting from the time constraint imposed by the judge moderating the hearing to reach a settlement and the pressure from her attorney to accept one; she says she agreed, under duress, to the $350,000 settlement without thinking it through.

A partial transcript of the November 2009 settlement talks was mistakenly posted on the federal court system's online docket, PACER, earlier this week. Clifford Chance and the firm's lawyers at Proskauer Rose sent an urgent letter to the court hearing the matter in Manhattan on Tuesday, asking the court to remove the documents from PACER immediately. The documents have since been removed; an ALM reporter had obtained a partial copy from PACER before the documents were taken down. (ALM is the parent company of The Am Law Daily.)

The transcript indicates that Clifford Chance offered the $350,000 settlement. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein declared, according to the transcript, that the parties would execute general releases, and that the case would be dismissed. The firm and its attorney, Proskauer's Bettina Plevan, also clarified to Magistrate Judge Gorenstein that "we're going to pay a lump sum on a 1099 [IRS form] and therefore would want a tax indemnification," the transcript says. A Clifford Chance spokesman did not return messages seeking comment. Plevan declined to comment on the matter. Latif Doman of Doman Davis says he no longer represents Memnon and disagrees with the allegation that he coerced her into agreeing to any settlement. He declined to comment further.

As reported by several news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, Memnon's original complaint accused Clifford Chance partners and senior associates of refusing to give her high-quality billable work because she is black. In the complaint, Memnon says she asked partners and associates for deal work but got very little of it; at one point, Memnon claims, she was on pace to bill fewer than 400 hours in a year. Clifford Chance higher-ups claimed she wasn't cut out to be a lawyer and assigned her nonbillable jobs such as fact-checking a partner's book, Memnon says in her suit. When she complained, the firm asked her to resign. 

After she left Clifford Chance, Memnon claims the firm attempted to prevent her from finding work elsewhere by providing bad references and spreading negative information about her. She says she was denied employment by prospective employers because of this. Memnon then sought work at smaller firms, thinking they would not have been exposed to Clifford Chance's efforts to tarnish her reputation, her complaint states. Sullivan & Worcester hired her in early February 2007 but fired her less than two months later without reason, the complaint states.

Dov Kesselman of Seyfarth Shaw represented Sullivan & Worcester in fighting Memnon's initial complaint, court records show. Kesselman declined to comment through a Seyfarth spokesperson, citing the fact that Memnon's case is once again pending. Memnon is now acting pro se, court records show. She claims any settlement she might have entered into should be ruled invalid because of her fragile emotional state and the coercive tactics of her former legal team at Doman Davis.

Additional reporting by Nate Raymond.

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If I understand this correctly, this lawyer(?) -- who had an anxiety attack during her settlement, and apparently was still dazed when she publicly filed a confidential document -- got $350k for working as a lawyer? If the way she represented herself is an indicator of her legal skills she shouldn’t have gotten $3.50, only in America. I need to go back to school.

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