The former head of intellectual property at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman sexually harassed at least 12 female employees at the firm -- including making advances on seven of them in one night -- before he was fired in December, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by the firm.
The complaint, filed in New York state court, is the first detailed account explaining why Kasowitz Benson says it fired Jeremy Pitcock, an IP litigator who joined from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in 2006. Pitcock denies sexually harassing anyone, let alone having engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment.
Kasowitz Benson, represented by Sullivan & Cromwell partner Gandolfo DiBlasi, accuses Pitcock of defaming the law firm by claiming he took clients with him when he joined another law firm earlier this year. It also accuses him of violating its partnership agreement by harassing its female employees. "Pitcock regularly targeted the most junior women at the firm," Kasowitz Benson says in its complaint. "The harassment extended to physical contact and assault."
The bitter falling-out between Pitcock and Kasowitz Benson has been playing out publicly since January, when the IP litigator joined New York boutique Morgan & Finnegan. When news reports said Pitcock "jumped ship" from Kasowitz Benson, the firm issued a press release saying he was terminated for "extremely inappropriate personal misconduct."
Morgan & Finnegan dismissed him shortly after, and Pitcock says he has been unable to find a job since. In June, he sued Kasowitz Benson for defamation in Manhattan federal district court. On Thursday, Pitcock's lawyers dismissed that suit and simultaneously filed a new one with the New York Supreme Court. The move came after Kasowitz Benson complained to the judge that the action belongs in state court. Pitcock is represented by John Balestriere and Craig Lanza of Balestriere Lanza in New York.
Sullivan & Cromwell's DiBlasi declined comment, as did Kasowitz Benson. The firm is seeking unspecified damages. In a statement, Balestriere categorized the complaint as the latest part of a "shameless and unwarranted smear campaign" against Pitcock. He also criticized Kasowitz Benson for essentially requiring women to bring baseless claims against Pitcock "when none of them apparently had any desire to do so."
KASOWTIZ BENSON'S RESPONSE
Pitcock, 36, joined Kasowitz in March 2006 after being wooed from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, where he was a senior associate. The firm offered him $1.2 million to make the leap, according to a letter from name partner Marc Kasowitz that was filed as an exhibit in Pitcock's federal suit.
Things were good for Pitcock, according to his own complaint. Despite his young age, the firm appointed him chair of the IP group rather than senior partner Lawrence Goodwin, who joined in January 2006 from Chadbourne & Park. The American Lawyer quoted him at length for an article last year on the hot market for IP attorneys. By mid-2007, Pitcock's second wife was expecting their second son. But according to Kasowitz Benson, during this same time he abused his position as partner and frequently sexually harassed women at the firm, including at least three of the female lawyers in his own IP group. The firm's Web site lists only five female lawyers in the IP practice today, out of a total 14 attorneys.
According to the complaint, Pitcock pressured two female junior lawyers in the IP group to have drinks with him. He also referred to both the lawyers as his "dates" when they attended the March 2007 Patent Ball, an annual gala hosted by the New York Intellectual Property Law Association and held at the Waldorf-Astoria. He told one of the two associates that he attended the event "only to see you"; Pitcock then winked at the same associate, according to the complaint. He also revealed to the other lawyer that he fantasized about dating or being married to her.
Balestriere, in his statement, says various quotes in the complaint "range from wildly out of context, to simply wrong, to statements that were clearly jokes or sarcasm."
Pitcock also harassed a third female lawyer who worked on IP business matters in November 2007, the complaint says. After a recruiting event, Pitcock offered the associate a ride home. After parking at her apartment, Pitcock tossed his keys to the building doorman. "We're going upstairs," he announced, the complaint claims. The woman, who didn't realize Pitcock thought he'd be following her any farther, told him he didn't need to go upstairs. He persisted, though. He only left after the associate's boyfriend answered the door.
Balestriere said Pitcock and others knew the associate "essentially lived with her boyfriend and that he would be in her apartment that night." She even called him several times in front of Pitcock that night to wake him up, Balestriere says, "which can be readily verified by phone records."
After the incident, Pitcock "acted coldly" toward the associate, the complaint says, excluding her from the IP practice's business activities. She was supposed to travel with him to Northern California to meet a potential new client. After the incident, though, Pitcock withdrew the invitation.
Many of the women were afraid of complaining, fearing Pitcock would harm their careers, the complaint says. The firm did, though, receive a complaint in May 2007. At an event welcoming summer associates, some of the new recruits complained they saw Pitcock stand behind a female employee and make "lewd gestures" about her figure, the complaint says. An unidentified partner warned Pitcock about the conduct after hearing about it from summer program coordinators, the complaint says.
Balestriere denies Pitcock made any lewd gestures.
Despite the warning and an assurance he would not repeat the conduct, Pitcock again engaged in similar conduct with another female employee at another summer associate event that summer, the complaint claims.
Besides harassment, Pitcock also behaved inappropriately at work in other ways, Kasowitz Benson says. The firm says Pitcock had a habit of visiting pornographic Web sites at work. He saved dozens of photos of nude women on his work computer, including ones of "women dressed and posed as young girls." The firm notes that violated its written policies on computer and Internet usage.
THE SEPTEMBER INCIDENT
In trying to explain what inappropriate conduct could have gotten him fired, Pitcock's earlier complaint noted an incident in September. After work one night, Pitcock said he and other firm staff went to a nearby bar. Afterward, Pitcock says he and an associate in another group went back to her apartment and shared a "brief, consensual kiss." Both realized it was a mistake, Pitcock claimed.
Kasowitz Benson's complaint refers to what appears to be the same drinking night. But its version claims the kiss wasn't consensual at all.
The complaint says in September, the firm held a welcoming event for first- and second-year associates. Pitcock attended, even though he and other senior lawyers weren't invited. Pitcock nevertheless stuck around until only first-years were left, continuing to order more drinks and paying particular attention to an unnamed female associate who'd just joined that day.
The associate was new to New York and had just moved into a new apartment. When everyone began leaving, Pitcock offered her a ride home. Once at her apartment, the complaint says Pitcock insisted she show him it. She tried to keep it to a quick tour and send him along. Instead, Pitcock blocked her bedroom exit, grabbed her, lifted her off the ground, and kissed her.
She pushed him back, the complaint says. But the woman, half Pitcock's size and worried about harming her career, told him she wasn't interested because he was married. Pitcock's wife was pregnant with his second child at the time.
Pitcock pressed for sex anyway, the complaint says. "A connection like ours is rare," he allegedly told her. Cheating on his wife was "my decision," he said, according to the complaint. He then told her she "will regret this," which the complaint says was his way of using his position as partner to frighten her. The woman hid in the kitchen until he left.
Balestriere, in his statement, said it's hard to believe the associate wouldn't have expressed any objection or discomfort to Pitcock before letting the night get so far as showing him her bedroom. "In truth, their kiss was consensual and brief before they mutually decided to go no further," Balestriere said.
Pitcock claimed in his complaint he had "only sporadic, friendly communications" with the associate after that, seeing her maybe two times at firm events and e-mailing her no more than a couple times. But according to Kasowitz Benson, he persisted in asking her to meet him after work. The woman feared being in the firm during non-office hours because of the September incident, the complaint says, and became distracted from work. Worried he'd hurt her career, though, the associate did not report it.
SEVEN WOMEN IN ONE NIGHT
The firm says it ultimately fired Pitcock after a series of incidents at its Dec. 3 holiday party, where the firm claims Pitcock "made sexual advances toward at least seven associates in just that one night." Pitcock has said in his previous complaint that he e-mailed the associate he kissed in September just prior to that party. He claimed that was his last contact with her. But according to Kasowitz Benson, he approached her at the party, asking if she was "still mad at me." Later that night, he offered her a ride home.
To one female lawyer, Pitcock claimed her boyfriend probably couldn't perform sexually, and asked her repeatedly about her sex life. To another female lawyer, Pitcock told her they should go to her apartment. He also e-mailed her at 12:45 a.m. that night to see if she was "still up."
Pitcock cornered a fourth female lawyer at the party. He asked her to tell him a secret she'd never told anyone. She didn't give one, but he allegedly did: "Mine is that I slept with three women at the same time, none was my wife, and my wife never found out."
Three other female employees were harassed at an after-party, the complaint says. He even slapped one on the butt, the complaint says, a claim that Balestriere denies.
The next day, employees reported Pitcock's conduct. It was the first report since the incident with the summer associates. The firm told Pitcock to stay out of the office and began an internal investigation. It gathered several reports both about the holiday party and other incidents.
The firm -- specifically name partner Marc Kasowitz, according to Pitcock -- fired him Dec. 7. It says it offered him a separation payment out of concern for his family, but Pitcock didn't accept the firm's offer. It also claims Pitcock apologized and admitted to the conduct, claiming his drinking impaired his judgment.
THE CLIENT QUESTION
Pitcock claims in his own lawsuit against Kasowitz Benson that the firm issued the January press release in order to damage his reputation and keep clients from following him to Morgan & Finnegan. The firm now says it was concerned about clients, but says only because of inaccurate reports that called into question its IP group's viability.
When Morgan & Finnegan announced Pitcock's arrival, the firm's Web site claimed he was bringing a number of clients with him, according to the complaint. Kasowitz Benson says at least two of the clients asked their names to be removed from Morgan & Finnegan's Web site after it announced his move.
At the time Kasowitz Benson issued its press release, Morgan & Finnegan's Web site listed JDS Uniphase; Harmonic Inc.; Euro RSCG Worldwide Inc.; Shaklee Corp.; and Bridge Associates LLC as "representative clients." Yet Kasowitz Benson says none of the clients left. Only one of those clients was a client he introduced to Kasowitz, the firm says, presumably JDSU, which followed him from Simpson Thacher.
Pitcock, in his own complaint, claims he had "a substantial book of business." He also said he generated contingency fee matters for the firm.
Either way, clients were concerned when he left, Kasowitz Benson says. After trade publication IP Law 360 reported on the move, several clients and IP lawyers asked Kasowitz Benson about the viability of its IP group.
The firm asked IP Law 360 to correct the story. The complaint says the publication "did not issue a sufficient correction of the article," which is why it decided to issue a press release Jan. 22.