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Frode Jensen, the former Pillsbury Winthrop partner whose announced departure to Latham & Watkins prompted a statement from his old firm accusing him of sexual harassment and declining productivity, has sued Pillsbury for $45 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The suit, filed in Connecticut Superior Court, charges the firm with defamation, interference with contract, interference with business relations and injurious falsehood, among other claims. In his 24-page complaint, Jensen, who worked in San Francisco-based Pillsbury’s Stamford, Conn., office, alleges that, as a result of Pillsbury’s Sept. 4 press statement, he was obliged to withdraw from his partnership in Latham’s New York office, where he was due to begin work Oct. 1. Jensen claims the position would have paid him a minimum of $1.1 million a year, substantially more than he earned as a Pillsbury partner. Jensen, 52, is also claiming that Pillsbury’s actions have substantially impaired his future employability as a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer. In Pillsbury’s Sept. 4 press statement, issued in response to Latham’s Sept. 3 announcement that Jensen was joining its New York office, Mary Cranston, the firm’s chair, said that Pillsbury investigated sexual harassment complaints against Jensen and “concluded there was a reasonable likelihood that harassment had occurred.” Cranston also stated that Jensen experienced “a significant decline in productivity” and had been absent from his office for most of the year. In his complaint, Jensen denies the statements contained in the Pillsbury release and alleges that Pillsbury’s senior partnership, facing serious competitive and financial challenges, sought to defame him and undermine his partnership at Latham out of fear that his departure would be regarded as a major loss to Pillsbury. In support of this argument, Jensen cites statements Pillsbury managing partner Marina H. Park first made in a Sept. 4 interview with the New York Law Journal and later repeated in an article published by law.com, an affiliate of the Law Journal. Park said at the time that Pillsbury issued its statement partly because the firm had received third-party feedback that perceptions of Jensen’s departure could hurt Pillsbury in the market for lateral partners. Cranston and Park are also named as defendants in the case, along with Pillsbury Vice-Chair John H. Pritchard and five unnamed defendants, including a legal recruiting firm and its principal, who apparently provided the third-party feedback that motivated Pillsbury’s management team to take action. “These people engaged in seriously wrong and mean-spirited conduct directed at my client,” said Stanley S. Arkin of New York’s Arkin Kaplan & Cohen, who is representing Jensen. Arkin said the suit followed settlement discussion that failed to bear fruit. The Pillsbury partners named in the suit declined to comment. In a statement, the firm’s general counsel, Ronald E. Van Buskirk, said, “Mr. Jensen is a disgruntled ex-partner making unjustified allegations.” “While we regret the filing of the lawsuit, we’ve thoroughly reviewed all the facts and absolutely stand by those individuals named in the case,” Van Buskirk continued in the statement. Pillsbury has retained Mary Jo White — former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now the litigation chair of New York’s Debevoise & Plimpton — to represent it in the suit. White could not be reached for comment. Jensen’s complaint describes his decision to leave Pillsbury as driven largely by the desire to build his practice through Latham’s larger and more diverse client base. But he also states that his decision was influenced by concerns about Pillsbury management’s “relentless” and “unrealistic” focus on improving the firm’s profitability following the 2001 merger between San Francisco’s Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro and New York’s Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts. According to the complaint, issues arising from that merger and the firm’s focus on profit growth have led to the departures of about 70 partners since the merger’s completion as well as a number of associate layoffs. Jensen is further claiming that an aggressive push to hire lateral partners, driven partly by a strategic study conducted by McKinsey & Co., has so far met with little success. Jensen, originally a Winthrop Stimson partner, also felt his contributions in the Stamford office were not appreciated by the largely West Coast-based management team. He claims in his complaint that his annual billings reached $10 million and have averaged over $5 million for the past six years, making him among the most productive of the former Winthrop partners. In his complaint, Jensen claims he tried to leave Pillsbury in an amicable manner and that he provided Pritchard with a copy of Latham’s proposed press release. According to Jensen, Pritchard approved the release and promised that Pillsbury would not issue a negative or “defensive” statement. Jensen charges that Pillsbury’s subsequent statement breached this agreement as well as the firm’s partnership agreement. Jensen is further claiming that Pillsbury’s allegations concerning sexual harassment violate a confidentiality provision contained in a December 2001 agreement between himself, Pillsbury and a third party. Jensen claims the agreement, by which the third party apparently separated from the firm and covenanted not to sue, was described to him by Pritchard as a “nuisance settlement.” Pritchard allegedly also told Jensen that no determination had been made by Pillsbury concerning whether or not Jensen had engaged in sexual harassment. He claims in his complaint that a “common sense evaluation of the ‘allegations’ would necessarily conclude that nothing like harassment ever took place.” Jensen is claiming that these breaches of contract as well as the public nature of Pillsbury’s actions have given rise to a cause of action not governed by Pillsbury’s partnership agreement, which calls for private arbitration of certain partnership disputes.

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