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Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft has been sued by a former associate who alleges she was sexually harassed by the former head of the firm’s labor and employment group. Sheila Sharei, who was hired in 2001 and was fired earlier this year, claims then-partner Timothy Davis “created a hostile sexual environment,” according to the suit filed July 15 in San Francisco Superior Court. Davis, who left Hancock at the end of last year to open a four-lawyer firm and is not named as a defendant in the suit, denied the allegations in the complaint. Among other things, Sharei says he made inappropriate comments about herself and other women and lost his temper with a client. Davis said he’s being maligned and speculated that Sharei is trying to pressure the firm for money. “I hope to God they never pay a nickel to settle this case,” he said. The suit claims the firm negligently supervised Davis, and then fired Sharei because she complained. She is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Her lawyer, Alan Exelrod of San Francisco’s Rudy, Exelrod & Zieff, contends the firm failed to control a partner. “Hancock’s responsible for his behavior.” The firm denies all of Sharei’s allegations of wrongdoing, said defense lawyer Jamerson Allen, a partner at Jackson Lewis. He declined to elaborate, saying the firm “prefers to address these matters in court.” Sharei claims she complained about Davis’ behavior in conversations with the firm’s human resources director and two of its partners when she worked there. For example, she said she mentioned it to partner Heidi Frenzel while explaining that her billable hours were low because Davis was planning to leave the firm and wasn’t giving associates much work. Davis said Monday he gave her plenty of work, but she wasn’t billing as many hours as she had in her early days at the firm. The suit claims Sharei began to experience physical symptoms of emotional distress in July 2003 due to an outburst by Davis. She took a doctor-recommended leave in early December, the complaint says, when she noticed some of her e-mails had been deleted and felt that her privacy was so invaded that she had an attack, with symptoms of panic and breathlessness. Several days after her Jan. 24 return to work, she was terminated, the complaint says. “They told her they didn’t have work in the employment area anymore,” because Davis had left the firm, Exelrod said. “But from our point of view, other people were retained who were also in that group.” Davis said he hired Sharei exclusively for employment work and took that practice with him to his new firm. He had left Hancock by the time she was fired, he said, and had no part in that decision.

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