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A former associate at Boston’s Ropes & Gray has filed a racial discrimination and retaliation case against the firm, 13 of its partners and the firm’s former chief people officer in Boston federal court. John H. Ray III, who is black, filed the case, Ray v. Ropes & Gray, on Aug. 2 in the District of Massachusetts. The partner defendants are 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. Ray also named former Ropes Chief People Officer Joy Curtis as a defendant. Ray’s claims against the firm include breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and unfair methods of competition. He has also brought a breach-of-contract claim that alleges the firm broke a promise in its policy manual that “there shall be no unlawful discrimination against any employee or applicant for employment on grounds of race [or] color.” He further claims the firm retaliated against him by refusing to give references and recommendations that partners had previously agreed to provide after he complained about the racially charged incidents. In addition, he claims that all the defendants violated several Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws and illegally retaliated against him. Ray claims that he was treated as a “token black associate” and a “diversity hire” despite his accomplishments. These include being accepted to Harvard Law School at age 19 and clerking at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Before moving to Boston in 2005 and accepting a job with Ropes & Gray, he previously worked at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York and Chicago-based Jenner & Block. Ray’s complaint alleges that, in 2008, when he was an eighth-year associate, he was asked by a Ropes & Gray partner to be the “token black associate” and a “black face” in a meeting with a prospective bank client facing allegations that it discriminated against black residents in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester by arbitrarily adding extra percentage points to their interest rates. “Comparable white associates were not required nor asked to sit for race-baiting “token” projects in their consideration for partner,” the complaint states. He claims the retaliation started when he eventually complained to partners and others at the firm about the “token black associate” comment and a “nigger” joke. Ray claims that before he complained in 2008 about the incidents, he had “received substantial praise for his work at the firm.” After that, Ray claims that partners assigned to give him work stopped giving him substantive assignments, and his billable hours dropped to 96.75 hours in June 2008, down from 269.5 hours in June 2007. He claims his hours from June to December 2008 fell to 882.2 from 1,111.75 for the prior year period. After he filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on May 15, 2009, he claims the firm locked him out his office, and individual partners reneged on earlier agreements to provide letters of recommendation or references. “In spite of his best efforts, and as a direct and proximate cause of Ropes & Gray’s discrimination and retaliation, Ray has been prevented from advancing his legal career, and his prospects for partnership (or other significant legal employment) have been dramatically diminished, if not destroyed,” states the complaint. Ray claims that Ropes & Gray tried to “frustrate and obstruct any legitimate review” of his EEOC discrimination and retaliation case. He also claims that partner David Mandel “has subjected himself to [a] Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers investigation and potential disciplinary sanctions,” for his efforts to deceive the EEOC. According to the complaint, the EEOC’s final determination, dated Feb. 22, 2011, states “[t]he evidence supports a finding that [Ropes & Gray] retaliated against [Ray] for filing his charge with the EEOC.” The EEOC made a determination on Jan. 24, 2011, that the firm had not violated the statutes, but the later determination found that the firm had retaliated against Ray. Ray, who was reached by telephone at his home in Hanover, Ma. declined to comment on his case. He said he filed the case pro se because he hasn’t yet retained a lawyer. In a written statement, the firm said the claims are baseless and “we are confident the court will dismiss the matter. After an 18-month investigation, the EEOC determined that Ropes & Gray denied partnership to Mr. Ray because of work that was well below our partnership standards, his fractured relationships with colleagues and allegations of inappropriate behavior with subordinates. In short, he did not perform to the high standards of quality and judgment expected of partners at our firm, and we made a prudent decision to terminate him.” The firm also stated that it did not retaliate against Ray for filing charges with the EEOC. “In view of his performance and inappropriate behavior, it is not surprising that individual partners did not supply the kind of recommendation letters Mr. Ray appears to want,” stated the firm. Curtis could not be reached for comment. Sheri Qualters can be contacted at [email protected].

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