A Boston federal judge has allowed former Ropes & Gray associate John H. Ray III to add defamation and invasion of privacy claims to his racial discrimination and retaliation case against the law firm.
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns on August 23 granted Ray’s motion to tack on the new claims, noting that the defense had not opposed the move.
Ray filed his suit in August 2011 against the firm, 13 of its partners and its former human resources chief officer. Ray, who is black, claimed he was treated as a “token black associate” and a “diversity hire” — and that he was denied work and otherwise punished following his complaints within the firm and to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Ray’s lawyer, Latif Doman of Washington’s Doman Davis, said the amended complaint was necessary because Ropes apparently gave confidential EEOC documents to the web site abovethelaw.com.
“We believe that the defamatory statements the defendant made about my client were evidence and part and parcel of the discrimination that he experienced at Ropes & Gray. It was a logical extension of the allegations he had been making,” Doman said.
Through a spokesman, Ropes & Gray said that the EEOC had cleared it of wrongdoing: “The EEOC specifically determined that Ropes & Gray did not discriminate against Mr. Ray and that determination was subsequently reconfirmed by the EEOC.”
Doman conceded the point regarding the underlying discrimination, but argued in the amended complaint that the agency now supported Ray’s retaliation claim. On reconsideration, “[t]he evidence supports a finding that [Ropes & Gray] retaliated against [Ray] for filing his charge with the EEOC,” the agency said on February 22, 2011, according to the complaint.
Lawyers at Boston firms Foley Hoag and Arrowood Peters represent Ropes and the other defendants. They are former Ropes “Chief People Officer” Joy Curtis and partners Randall Bodner, David Chapin, John Donovan, Keith Higgins, Jesse Jenner, Robert Jones, William Knowlton, R. Bradford Malt, David Mandel, Joan McPhee, John Montgomery, Brien O’Connor and Othon Prounis.
The original claims included breach of contract and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing: violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; unfair competition; and violations of several Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws.
Ray alleged that a Ropes partner asked him in 2008 to serve as the “token black associate” and a “black face” during a meeting with a prospective bank client facing allegations that it had discriminated against black residents in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester.
At the time, Ray was an eighth-year associate. He joined the firm in 2005 after working at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York and Chicago’s Jenner & Block.
Ray claimed the retaliation started when he complained to partners and others at the firm about the “token black associate” comment and a “nigger” joke. Partners assigned to give him work gave him less, which significantly reduced his billable hours. From June to December 2008 they fell to 882.2, compared to 1,111.75 during the same period the year before, he said.
The retaliation continued after he filed the EEOC complaint in May 2009, Ray alleged. The firm locked him out his office, and individual partners reneged on agreements to provide recommendation letters or references, he said.
Sheri Qualters is a reporter for The National Law Journal, a Legal affiliate based in New York.