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Claims of sexual and racial discrimination are land mines that can explode at any time. To avoid injury, many companies turn to Jackson Lewis Schnitzler & Krupman, a leading purveyor of employment law advice. When preventive measures don’t work, a member of the firm’s litigation team is always ready for rescue and recovery work. One key member of that team was Karen Khan, the former head of litigation in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. “Karen is an excellent trial attorney — the best I’ve ever seen,” says C.J. Trosclair, the former managing partner in the office. She was also the firm’s only black partner. Now, there are none. Khan took the 345-lawyer, White Plains, N.Y.-based firm into arbitration last June over her claims of discrimination. Her case is set for a final hearing in April. Khan joined Jackson Lewis in 1996, the same year that she settled a similar suit with her former employer — ironically enough, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. William Krupman, Jackson Lewis’ managing partner for the past 25 years, recruited Khan, but won’t say whether he knew about the EEOC case before hiring her. The trouble at Jackson Lewis started in the summer of 2000, when the firm decided to replace Trosclair as the head of the D.C. office. Khan asked for, and was refused, the job. Instead, Michael Petkovich, the managing partner in Chicago, was brought in. Soon it was apparent that Petkovich didn’t share Trosclair’s high opinion of Khan. He told her she was unresponsive to clients and wasn’t billing enough hours, she says. The last straw, she says, came last April, when Petkovich accused her of charging personal expenses — a messenger service fee — to the firm. Khan quit shortly afterward. In her claim for compensatory and punitive damages, Khan cites her demotion by Petkovich, who took over as head of litigation, and alleges that the firm wrongfully withheld an expected increase in pay in 2000. Finally, she claims that the firm defamed her by accusing her of theft and bad-mouthing her to a client. Kathleen Behan of D.C.’s Arnold & Porter, who represents Jackson Lewis, wouldn’t comment on Khan’s allegations. The evidence supporting Khan’s claims is based more on alleged firmwide problems than on direct evidence of discrimination. The problems cited by Khan’s lawyer — Lynne Bernabei of D.C.’s Bernabei & Katz, a high-profile employment and libel lawyer — include the dearth of minorities at the firm and a refusal by the firm to promote them. According to Bernabei, Jackson Lewis can’t take much comfort in its anti-discrimination policy — a policy that she says is “almost nonexistent.” Krupman disagrees. “I think our policy is sound. It’s one we believe in,” he says. He also says that the firm has programs to improve diversity. After leaving the firm, Khan moved across the Potomac River into Northern Virginia and formed Khan Romberger. She continues to practice employment law, mostly defending management from claims brought by employees.

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