Dechert and Former Associate Settle 'Macho Culture' Retaliation Case
The National Law Journal
Dechert and former associate Ariel Ayanna have settled Ayanna's retaliation case, in which he claimed the firm's 'macho culture' was responsible for his termination.
On February 11, just before the five-day trial in Ayanna v. Dechert was slated to begin, lawyers for both sides informed Judge Nathaniel Gorton of the District of Massachusetts of a confidential settlement.
After hearing about the settlement at a confidential sidebar, Gorton agreed to seal it.
"Counsel are to be commended. This could have been a lengthy trial. It would cost your clients a considerable amount of money. It's always appropriate for parties to reach a settlement. It was a job well done," Gorton said.
Ayanna's lawyer, Rebecca Pontikes of Pontikes Law, declined to comment after the hearing.
Dechert's lead lawyer, Danny Cloherty, a partner at Boston-based Collora LLP, also declined to comment.
Dechert spokesperson Beth Huffman confirmed that the matter has been resolved but said the firm has "no further comment."
Back in October, Gorton denied Dechert's request for summary judgment on Ayanna's retaliation claim under the under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Ayanna worked in Dechert's financial services practice group from September 11, 2006, until December 17, 2008.
He used paid paternity leave and FMLA time to care for his children and mentally ill wife after his second child was born. Four months later, his job was terminated.
Ayanna sued in December 2010. In his complaint, he claimed, "the culture for men at Dechert is a 'macho' one which praises and encourages male associates and partners to fulfill the stereotypical male role of ceding family responsibilities to women."
He sought back and front pay, lost benefits, damages for emotional distress, punitive damages and attorney fees and costs.? He also asked the court to order Dechert "to institute and carry out policies, practices, and programs that eradicate unlawful stereotyping of male care-givers."
In his October ruling, Gorton noted that Ayanna was told that he was fired because of his "fair" rating and his "personal issues." Gorton wrote, "A reasonable jury could find that the comment was directed at Ayanna's recent need to take FMLA leave."
Gorton also cited factual disputes about Ayanna's low billable hours. These include whether the firm withheld work from him in retaliation or agreed that Ayanna could log fewer hours during a temporary work assignment in Germany. Gorton also noted that other Dechert attorneys who were terminated around the same time did not meet their billable hours target the year before, but Ayanna did. "That calls into question Dechert's claim that Ayanna was terminated solely because of his low billable hours," Gorton wrote.
In the same ruling, Gorton dismissed Ayanna's state sex discrimination claim because Ayanna did not present evidence showing that his firing for low billable hours was a pretext for firing him because he was a male caregiver.
In January 2012, Gorton dismissed Ayanna's state law handicap discrimination claim, writing, "The statute is… intended to regulate employers' actions with respect to their handicapped employees and does not afford standing to non-handicapped employees based on their association with a handicapped person."
Sheri Qualters can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.