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In a victory for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a sexual harassment suit against a California law firm. The court had ordered the agency to pay the firm more than $300,000 in legal fees. In 2000, the EEOC alleged that Reeves & Associates of Pasadena, Calif., and partner Robert L. Reeves had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by sexually harassing 12 female employees. Reeves rejected an EEOC settlement offer of $1 million. U.S. District Judge Dickran Terizian, finding that the plaintiffs hadn’t presented sufficient evidence for a jury to consider the case, dismissed the suit and ordered the EEOC to pay the firm $363,075 in attorney fees. The firm, with 14 attorneys and additional offices in San Francisco; Orange, Calif.; Beijing; and Manila, Philippines, specializes in immigration law. In reversing, the 9th Circuit found that there was enough evidence to suggest that Reeves’ law firm was “permeated with sexual harassment” and that there was a “hostile and abusive work environment.” According to the EEOC, Reeves told sexual jokes, made suggestive comments, leered and inappropriately touched the women in the office. One woman, whose name the agency refused to release, claimed Reeves deliberately passed behind her while she was making copies in a narrow space so that their bodies were touching. Another said Reeves suggested they have sex on the conference room table, the EEOC said. Asked about the allegations, Reeves said that they and the 9th Circuit panel’s ruling are “flatly wrong” and that his firm will seek en banc review by the full court. He said that two former partners at his firm, Colin Greene and Daniel Hanlon, sabotaged him by having Greene’s girlfriend make anonymous false allegations to the EEOC. There is a history of acrimony between Reeves and the two attorneys. After the two left Reeves’ firm, he sued them, claiming that they stole his firm’s client list. In February, the California 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld damages of $150,000 in the case. Greene said he has nothing to do with the EEOC case. Samantha Blake, an EEOC trial attorney, said the suit’s possible connection with the ex-partners is irrelevant. “The agency is very selective about the cases that it chooses to litigate,” Blake said. “We choose them because we feel that they may have an impact on the current state of the law.”

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