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Vinson & Elkins has settled a federal employment suit filed by former associate Rhonda H. Wills, an African-American female, who alleged the firm engaged in unlawful employment practices that violated her civil rights and alleged she was the victim of racial and gender discrimination, as well as sexual harassment, while at the firm. The settlement in Rhonda Wills v. Vinson & Elkins averts a trial set for February before U.S. District Judge John Rainey of Houston. In her second amended complaint, Wills alleged V&E violated her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. 1981, retaliated against her — including denying her partnership — and placed her in such an intolerable position that she had to resign. She sought unspecified actual and punitive damages. Austin plaintiffs lawyers Broadus Spivey, of the Law Offices of Broadus Spivey, and Paul Knisely, a shareholder in Knisely & Prehoditch, who represent Wills, say they are working out final details of the settlement with V&E. They say terms of the settlement are confidential, and they decline further comment. V&E’s lawyer, Diana Marshall, of the Marshall Law Firm in Houston, did not return three telephone messages before presstime on Jan. 20, but she informed Rainey’s court in a letter dated Jan. 10 that the suit has settled except for “some minor details.” “I am pleased to report, with the blessing of Messrs. Knisely and Spivey, that we have settled the above case,” Marshall wrote. John Murchison, a partner in V&E in Houston who is the 725-lawyer firm’s spokesman in connection with Wills v. Vinson & Elkins, also did not return two telephone calls seeking comment. But in 2003, Murchison described the allegations in Wills’suit as a “highly fictionalized account of her time at the firm.” Another defense attorney in the suit, Richard Brann, a partner in Baker Botts in Houston, also did not return a telephone message before presstime. Wills, now of the Law Firm of Rhonda H. Wills in Houston, did not return a telephone message left at her office. DENIED PARTNERSHIP In her complaint, Wills alleged V&E acted with “malice or reckless indifference toward her rights.” The allegations in the complaint painted a picture of a working environment in which African-American lawyers are unlikely to thrive. Wills joined Houston-based V&E as an associate in August 1995 and worked in the firm’s Houston litigation section, according to the complaint, which Wills filed in 2003. She is a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law who spent a year as a briefing attorney at the Texas Supreme Court. Wills alleged in the complaint that she left V&E in April 2003 after she was denied partnership in November 2002. She alleged two partners told her that she was not promoted because some partners in the Houston litigation section did not “feel comfortable” with her. In 2003, Murchison said that V&E encouraged Wills to stay at the firm and try again to become partner. Wills also alleged in the complaint that V&E has a history of racial discrimination in its hiring, retention and promotion of African-Americans. In the complaint, Wills sought to be rehired and promoted to partner, and she sought an injunction to prevent the firm from “engaging in unlawful employment practices.”

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