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October 31, 2011 4:55 PM

Ex–Staff Attorney Accuses Quinn Emanuel of Racial Bias

Posted by Julie Triedman

A former Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan staff attorney claims the firm discriminated against her because of her race and then gave her no choice but to quit after she complained.

In her complaint [PDF], filed Friday in federal district court in Manhattan, plaintiff Kisshia Simmons-Grant seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages to cover what she alleges are past and future lost earnings and mental anguish she claims to have suffered as a result of the firm's treatment.

Quinn Emanuel partner Robert Juman, listed on Simmons-Grant's complaint as the firm's lawyer in the matter, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters reported Monday that Juman labeled the complaint "frivolous, as subsequent proceedings will reveal" in an e-mail message to a reporter.

Simmons-Grant claims in her complaint that she worked at Quinn Emanuel as a staff attorney from November 2006 until August 2010, and that she was paid on an hourly basis as part of a group of 20 to 25 staff attorneys handling discovery and other legal work. The attorneys in the group were paid only when they were given assignments, the complaint states. 

Simmons-Grant, who is black, alleges that her supervisor, a managing staff attorney, routinely assigned more work to white staff attorneys than to her even though she was comparably qualified. The result, she alleges, was several periods during which she had no work and therefore no income.

In February 2010, Simmons-Grant claims she contacted the managing partner of Quinn Emanuel's New York office, Peter Calamari, to report the discriminatory treatment. Six days later, according to the complaint, Calamari told Simmons-Grant that he he had found no indication of racial discrimination after reviewing the matter with her supervisor.

Five months later, the complaint states, Simmons-Grant had another run-in with her supervisor. Another lawyer with whom she was working on an assignment grew so angry about being forced to work over the Fourth of July weekend that he "became physically threatening," the complaint states. But when Simmons-Grant expressed her concerns to her supervisor and a human resources employee, the complaint states, they were dismissive of those fears and of her request to be switched to another assignment.

Simmons-Grant claims that a few days later she asked a second time to be transferred to a different assignment, but was once again denied. While acknowledging in the complaint that she gave the firm two weeks notice at that point, Simmons-Grant claims that the firm's treatment of her amounted to constructive termination because she had no choice but to resign.

Simmons-Grant claims that the alleged discrimination and retaliation were willful and violated federal, state, and city civil rights laws. She is being represented in the suit by James Halter, an associate at a New York city employment law boutique Liddle & Robinson. Neither Simmons-Grant nor her attorney responded to e-mails and calls for comment.

According to the Web site for her law firm, Simmons-Grant PLLC, and her LinkedIn profile, Simmons-Grant received a B.S. in human development and family studies from Cornell University and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. After law school, she worked as an assistant chief counsel at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the site says. She practices immigration law, according to the site.

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