Good plaintiffs lawyers have always known how to seize a moment and capitalize on a trend.
But when it comes to Jeanne Christensen, who has represented women suing Fox News, The Weinstein Co., and hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen over the past year, it’s not just about riding a wave of sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination allegations.
Christensen, the sole female partner at New York’s Wigdor LLP and the lead lawyer in a proposed class action claiming Uber Technologies Inc. failed to protect “countless” female customers from rape and assault, said she has experienced discrimination firsthand. And she has been pursuing claims against Uber since 2015, long before accusations against Harvey Weinstein launched the #MeToo movement.
“I had been thinking about Uber for a long time. One day, I literally got up and realized this is a class action case,” she said. “If you are going to be a litigator, you have to [be] willing to put a new type of claim, you can’t be afraid to put it out there. That was something I already knew about and about how bad the problem was, and how much it was covered up.”
Uber has denied the claims in the proposed class action and is being defended by Perkins Coie. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in March in federal court in Oakland.
“The allegations brought forth in this case are important to us and we take them very seriously,” the company said in a statement.
Christensen started practicing in 1992, after graduating from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Before launching her own firm, she said she was turned down while applying for law firm jobs because she was pregnant. Since coming to Wigdor in 2014, despite name partner Douglas Wigdor’s high-profile, she said she has worked hard to win credit for her own role on cases.
“I work very hard at it,” Christensen said. “I don’t think anyone would describe me as abrasive, but I don’t think meekly.
Those efforts have helped to raise her profile dramatically over the past year, and Christensen said she’s become a go-to female legal expert for reporters delivering stories about harassment allegations.
The New Yorker staff writer Sheelah Kolhatkar, NBC’s Megyn Kelly and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer have all recently given Christensen a platform. (Only Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ omnipresent lawyer, may be able to claim more airtime.)
During an interview with CNN last month about the Uber case, Christensen noted her prior experience suing Uber on behalf of individual women, saying “Uber has done a miraculous job of keeping the story quiet.” With her proposed class action, she is taking her fight against Uber to a new, much more public level.
“We’re not simply going to file cases so Uber pays women and their lawyers money to be quiet about it, and that was a conscious decision that we made,” she told CNN.
Female plaintiffs have been drawn to Christensen, who has filed 25 employment discrimination cases in federal court since 2010 against hospitals, restaurants and financial services companies, among other defendants. Her former clients and even lawyers who previously opposed her have recommended her, Christensen said.
But her own gender has also been a factor, she said. “They are calling me because they don’t want to call a male lawyer,” Christensen said. “I don’t want to say that is the No. 1 reason, because then it makes it seem like I haven’t done anything. But some women are looking for a woman lawyer when in the past they may have sought the counsel of a man.”
She also sees a deficit of female lawyers handling sexual assault and harassment cases, particularly for plaintiffs who are not high-profile or top executives. “There are very few women in this space,” Christensen said.
Her own experience with sex-related discrimination has helped her relate to clients, she said. “I don’t need someone to tell me what it is like to be discriminated against about pregnancies,” she said. “That comes through. There is just no substitute for that.”