A Boston federal jury took just 2 1/2 hours on Wednesday to reject former associate John Ray III’s employment retaliation case against Ropes & Gray, which he’d accused of lashing out after he complained of racial discrimination.
The jury, which appeared to comprise four white men, three white women and one black man, concluded that Ray hadn’t filed his claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in good faith. Neither had be acted in good faith when he wrote to Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow accusing the firm of retaliation, the panel said.
That finding spoke to an accusation Ropes & Gray’s trial lawyer Michael Keating leveled during closing statements earlier in the day—that Ray had threatened the firm “with wide public embarrassment if they did not accede to his demands,” which at one point hit $40 million. “His discrimination claim was not about discrimination. It was about threats and it was about money,” Keating said.
Keating, litigation department chairman at Boston’s Foley Hoag, said he was gratified at the outcome and referred other questions to his client. In an email, a Ropes & Gray spokesman said the firm also was “gratified at the decisions in this case, which affirm our steadfast commitment to fairness and equality. Our workplace and our ability to serve our clients are immeasurably strengthened by the differing backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of our employees.”
Ray’s lawyer, Latif Doman of Washington’s Doman Davis, declined to comment until he could speak with his client.
Ray alleged that the law firm sought punish him by withholding promised letters of recommendation and releasing the EEOC’s initial denial of his discrimination claim to the Above the Law website in May 2011. The commission’s letter contained some of Ray’s confidential information.
Ropes & Gray’s attorneys argued that the firm acted only after Ray released the EEOC’s final determination that he had suffered retaliation to Minow, the Harvard Law Record newspaper and the school’s black student association. Under the circumstances, Keating told jurors, the firm had “every right” to release the first EEOC letter to give Minow a full picture of the dispute.
Ray joined the firm in 2005 after working at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Jenner & Block. In December 2008, Ropes & Gray gave him six months to find a new job after concluding he wouldn’t make partner. Keating portrayed him as talented lawyer with a string of professional successes who began to “unravel” when the firm told him to leave. “If he’s a victim in this case, it’s self-victimization,” Keating said.
Ray was “constantly upping the ante,” first demanding an $8.5 million settlement and then threatening to report various Ropes & Gray lawyers to bar disciplinary authorities and seek criminal charges through the Justice Department.
His case suffered a major blow when U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns excluded Ray’s damages expert, leaving jurors unsure how much he was asking for at trial.
Doman told the jury that Ray made around $300,000 and partners $1.3 million when he left the firm.
During his own closing statement, Doman declared: “This country was founded on protest.” The Declaration of Independence, he said, was essentially a protest letter.
He argued that Ray’s May 2009 draft complaint followed partner John Donovan’s request that he list his complaints “as a starting point for discussion.” Since that time, the firm has called Ray a liar, extortionist and cheater, Doman said. “Please excuse him for being a bit angry and expressing his disgust.”
Sheri Qualters can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.