A sexual harassment suit filed against Dentons and a former managing director at the firm is meritless and “misappropriates” the #MeToo movement, said the global legal giant and the executive’s lawyers in separate court filings Monday in New York.
Krunali Parekh, a business development specialist in the firm’s New York office, said in an explosive complaint filed last month that Alton Delane, her direct supervisor, had kissed her on the face in front of colleagues, touched her in sensitive areas and used vulgar language to express a desire to have sex with her, all despite her requests that he stop. Parekh also sued Dentons, alleging that the firm attempted to silence her complaints.
Dentons denied the allegations and said it was unable to conduct a full investigation into Parekh’s claims after she failed to attend scheduled meetings with the firm’s human resources department. Represented by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, a national labor and employment firm grappling with its own sexual harassment claims, Dentons also struck back against Parekh’s claims that the firm and legal profession treat women “like objects.” Dentons declined to comment beyond its 24-page response filed in New York State Supreme Court.
“Consistent with the aims of the #MeToo movement, Dentons takes affirmative steps to advance the professional careers of women in the workplace,” the firm said in court papers, listing programs such as a rainmaker training that it holds for women.
Delane’s lawyers at Kasowitz Benson Torres were more forceful in their pushback against Parekh, invoking the #MeToo movement. A 14-page filing by the firm called Parekh’s suit a “contemptible attempt to misappropriate the legacy, struggle and suffering of women who have actually experienced sexual harassment.” The filing by Kasowitz, a firm that once said it fired a partner over allegations of sexual harassment, said that Delane “at no time” engaged in “unwelcome or harassing conduct” toward Parekh, calling her “a liar and an opportunist whose claims will fail.”
The filing by Dentons asserts that Parekh’s suit omitted the fact that she encouraged Delane to meet her for dinner and drinks after she had filed her internal complaint against him. Delane’s filing said that Parekh had once sent him a photo of herself in a bikini. The pair worked together in a role that involved planning events to promote Dentons’ venture technology practice. That involved scouting restaurants as possible locations for events.
A source said Delane no longer works at Dentons. A spokeswoman for the firm previously said in a statement that he had been put on administrative leave after Parekh’s complaints. Mark Lerner, head of the employment litigation group at Kasowitz and a lawyer for Delane, declined to comment on his client’s employment status.
“We are confident that the [c]ourt and any jury, after viewing the contemporaneous evidence, will reject Ms. Parekh’s baseless claims,“ Lerner said in a statement provided to The American Lawyer. “Emails, text messages and other evidence vindicate Mr. Delane and prove that at no time was Ms. Parekh sexually harassed by Mr. Delane.”
Parekh is being represented in the suit against Delane and Dentons by New York’s Wigdor, which has made a name for itself in recent months by filing sexual harassment suits against cable network Fox News and ride-sharing giant Uber Technologies Inc.
Earlier this year, Dentons suspended a partner in Europe who had been the subject of an investigation into inappropriate behavior. The partner later left the firm and was found to have engaged in behavior that Dentons said “fell well below the expectations that we have for our partners.”
Dentons also was investigated earlier this year by a U.K. regulatory agency over an employment discrimination case brought by a former recruitment manager who said she was retaliated against for taking maternity leave.
The filing by Dentons on Monday went to great lengths to discuss programs that the firm has to promote women in the workplace. Those include a diversity and inclusion committee; unconscious bias training; an annual leadership development event for senior female in-house lawyers; and participating in or holding conferences to discuss the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.