A former Reed Smith associate in Washington who alleged wrongful termination against the firm won a victory Thursday in the D.C. Court of Appeals, which reversed the dismissal of the suit and remanded the case for trial in Superior Court.
The former associate, Danielle Cesarano, who now works at the State Department, filed a complaint against Reed Smith in October 2003. Cesarano, who is represented by Webster, Fredrickson, Correia & Puth, had complained internally earlier that the firm was not providing her reasonable accommodation for a physiological disorder she developed after burning her dominant hand in 2001 at a Reed Smith trial training program.
Cesarano, according to court records, said she was having difficulty getting enough assignments at Reed Smith to meet expectations for billable hours. Her supervisor at the firm, Reed Smith partner Richard Sullivan, said in 2002 that Cesarano would need to bill 200-hour months in order for him to make the argument to keep her at the firm, court records show.
Reed Smith managing partner Douglas Spaulding, according to the D.C. Court of Appeals opinion, told Cesarano she had experienced a "stutter step" in her career and that the firm could no longer "carry her." At one point, Cesarano was working four hours a day. Spaulding noted in an affidavit that Cesarano's annual chargeable hours were extremely low and, among other things, Cesarano had received mixed overall performance reviews.
Cesarano received notice in October 2002 that she would be fired the next month. In her suit against the firm, Cesarano alleged disability discrimination and retaliation, among other claims. She demanded compensatory and punitive damages in addition to back pay.
In response to the suit, Reed Smith's lawyers at DiMuro Ginsberg in Virginia alleged Cesarano was not a person with a disability during her employment and that statutes of limitation barred the allegations. Judge Michael Rankin in 2007 sided with the firm.
D.C. Court of Appeals Judges Inez Smith Reid and John Fisher, sitting with Senior Judge Warren King, heard oral argument in the case in February 2009. Reid, who wrote the unanimous opinion, said the court takes no position on the merits of Cesarano's wrongful termination claim.
The appeals court affirmed the dismissal of Cesarano's claims under the D.C. Human Rights Act and the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act. Click here for the opinion.
Bruce Fredrickson of Washington's Webster, Fredrickson, Correia & Puth, who argued for Cesarano, said he was "delighted" with the court's ruling and looking forward to trial in Superior Court. Cesarano declined to comment. The Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association supported Cesarano as an amicus curiae.
Jonathan Mook, a partner with DiMuro Ginsberg in Alexandria, Va., who argued for Reed Smith in the appeals court, declined to comment.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.