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What began as alleged “choking and punching” by Ohio management lawyer Stephen J. Sferra during testy contract negotiations with a Teamsters Union attorney in 2006 has escalated into a civil suit filed last week by the union lawyer on the receiving end. The lawsuit by attorney John M. Masters has now dragged employment firm Littler Mendelson’s Cleveland office into the fray as a named party because the San Francisco-based Littler took over Sferra’s firm, Duvin Cahn & Hutton, after the altercation. The suit alleges the Duvin firm cultivated an image and marketing strategy as “tough guys” in labor negotiations and encouraged partners such as Sferra to act in “aggressive and intimidating fashion.” Sferra, who represented Schwebel’s Baking Co. and Masters, who represented 139 bakers in Teamster’s Local No. 336, were at loggerheads May 9, 2006 over pension terms and wages for the expired contract. Masters alleged that Sferra assaulted him from behind as he tried to leave the meeting room. Police and paramedics were called, according to press accounts at the time. The confrontation escalated to a National Labor Relations Board charge filed by Masters shortly after the incident. The NLRB charge accused the Schwebel’s representatives of doing nothing to stop the attack, which was tantamount to approval, according to Masters. Masters suit also alleges that two days after the incident Sferra threatened to have Masters arrested if the labor lawyer proceeded with a criminal complaint against Sferra. Sferra declined comment, but Rob Wolff, former managing partner with Duvin Cahn and now at Littler, said, “We deny the allegations. Steve Sferra is one of the most respected labor lawyers in our neck of the woods. He isnow a Littler partner. We are looking forward to defending our position incourt.” Wolff declined to discuss the specifics of the incident. The NLRB charge was resolved after the contract was signed less than a month later maintaining pension for new bakers that had been at the core of the dispute. “In my opinion, the behavior of Sferra was a calculated attempt to disrupt labor negotiations in order to prevent the union membership from holding a strike vote with proper notice given to the employer so that a strike could not be conducted the week before the Memorial Day weekend,” said Brian Smith, Masters’ attorney with Masters & Associates in Independence, Ohio. “At age 49 Mr. Masters is long past resolving disputes by fist fighting,” Smith said.

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