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A gay senior associate in the Los Angeles office of New York’s White & Case has sued the firm for sexual harassment and sex discrimination, claiming two male partners created a “intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment” through inappropriate comments and behavior. In a suit filed June 2 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Christopher M. Meekins, a corporate associate at the firm since 2002, accuses partners Jerry Bloom and James Cairns of making unwelcome sexual advances in addition to frequently commenting on Meekins’ physical appearance and inquiring about his personal life. Meekins, 34, says he rebuffed both partners and complained about their behavior. He claims the firm retaliated against him by withholding work assignments, denying him a promised promotion and freezing his salary. The suit names the firm, Bloom, Cairns and Richard Smith, the executive partner of the Los Angeles office, as defendants. Meekins has also named a number of Doe defendants — White & Case employees involved in the events at issue whose identities he says he has yet to ascertain. Meekins, represented by Los Angeles attorney Michael Bononi, is asking compensatory and punitive damages in amounts to be determined at trial. White & Case spokesman Roger Cohen said Friday that the firm is continuing to investigate the allegations but he said the firm had so far found nothing to substantiate them. “If, as expected, those allegations are indeed baseless, we will so demonstrate in court, which is the appropriate forum to consider such matters,” said Cohen. “If, contrary to our expectations, there is a basis for those allegations or any of them, the firm will take appropriate action to remedy the situation.” He said the firm did not tolerate sexual harassment or sex discrimination, and was committed to fostering at all levels an inclusive and diverse work environment in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Cohen said he could not comment on whether the firm had retained counsel or whether it intended to represent itself. Meekins’ 47-page complaint describes numerous alleged instances in which Bloom, the head of White & Case’s energy practice, either made comments about Meekins’ appearance, inquired of his sex life or sought to engage the associate in social activities outside the office. On one occasion, Meekins claims Bloom told him he “would not succeed at White & Case unless [he] was able to work long hours and maintain a great body.” On another, Bloom allegedly stated that he knew Meekins was “screwing all the hot guys in West Hollywood.” Meekins claims he often indicated to Bloom that he thought such comments were inappropriate but the partner persisted. On a client trip, Meekins claims Bloom tried to book them together in the same hotel room. Meekins also claims Bloom frequently pressed him to have dinner or accompany Bloom on social outings to bars and nightclubs. He claims he turned down most of the invitations but occasionally acceded out of fear of offending Bloom. PARTNERS’ ‘IMPRESSIONS’ Meekins claims Bloom told him in September 2004 that other partners at the firm had the impression Meekins “was extremely bright, had all of the skills necessary to be a successful partner, but that [he] was doing B+ work and getting by on [his] looks.” Meekins says he objected to the characterization and told Bloom to correct the other lawyers’ impression that his appearance had anything to do with his work. Meekins claims Bloom told him it was a hurdle he would need to overcome. Meekins attributes the characterization to Bloom and claims it hurt his credibility at the firm. In his suit, Meekins describes Bloom as his direct supervising partner as well as the lawyer who recruited him to join White & Case. Meekins says Cairns, an asset finance partner with whom he did not work, essentially stalked him at the office, asking him out 15 times between April and September 2003 and more frequently approaching him to make comments on the associate’s appearance or ask about his sex life. Meekins says Cairns’ advances caused him to withdraw from many firm activities, including social events and recruiting efforts. The associate claims he told Bloom about Cairns’ conduct in August 2003. Meekins says Bloom told him not to discuss the matter with other associates and to merely stay away from Cairns. Meekins claims that he had been concerned about not receiving enough work assignments to advance his career. He claims he began approaching other partners besides Bloom for work and he became active in pro bono matters. Last year, Meekins served as counsel to the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group, in a suit aimed at having the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy ruled unconstitutional. Meekins claims Bloom told him in November 2004 that he could not be put up for partnership that year but that he could be promoted to of counsel at an annual salary of $275,000. Meekins claims he said he would take such an offer but was told in January that the firm had decided not to offer him the position because his hours were too low. He says he also failed to receive a raise from his 2004 associate’s salary, which Smith said he had not merited because of his low billable hours. INVESTIGATION BEGINS Meekins says he complained about both Bloom and Cairns earlier this year. He claims Smith, the executive partner, took charge of the investigation and, at one point, told him the investigation had been concluded but did not let him know the outcome. Smith later referred the matter to Philip Schaeffer, the firm’s general counsel. Meekins claims Schaeffer accused him of being “argumentative” and said the problem in the office was mostly about gossip. The general counsel allegedly told the associate the decisions on his status at the firm were unrelated to his sexual harassment complaints and the firm “could back all those up with legitimate business reasons if we had to.” Schaeffer also allegedly told Meekins he should apologize to Cairns. In March, Schaeffer allegedly offered to transfer Meekins to the New York office provided the firm was not obligated to give him any work and could terminate his employment by a specific date. Meekins remains an associate in the firm’s Los Angeles office. He declined comment Friday, but Bononi said Meekins hoped the suit might help him rebuild his legal career. One of the largest law firms in the world, White & Case has almost 2,000 lawyers worldwide and approximately 60 in Los Angeles.

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