scaled gender inequality
(Illustration by MHJ/iStock)

Slightly more than six months after Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo announced a settlement in a gender discrimination case filed against the Boston-based Am Law 100 firm by former female associate Kamee Verdrager, a partner caught up in that case has moved on to another large firm.

Bret Cohen, whom Verdrager’s complaint accused of making sexually inappropriate comments to her, recently left Mintz Levin for Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, where he will serve as co-head of his new firm’s labor and employment practice. Cohen, who denied Verdrager’s allegations, previously co-chaired Mintz Levins employee mobility, noncompetes and trade secrets practice from Boston and Washington, D.C.

Nelson Mullins’ addition of Cohen is part of a string of lateral recruits this year by the Columbia, South Carolina-based firm, which moved onto the Am Law 100 list this year after being included in the Second Hundred in 2016. Nelson Mullins has brought on 17 partners so far in 2017, including two each for its North Carolina offices in Charlotte and Raleigh, as well as new partner duos for its outposts in Atlanta, Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.

“We are always looking for good lawyers in each one of our offices,” said a statement by Nelson Mullins managing partner James Lehman, who assumed leadership of the firm in early 2012. “But after several years of the firm posting strong financial performances and solid all-around growth, we have seen a definite increase in laterals looking at our firm. We’ve been able to bring in some outstanding individuals and groups and are looking to continue that trend.”

Lehman called Cohen “an important part of our efforts to grow our employment practice,” and in prepared remarks cited the former Mintz Levin partner’s “work in the in the cutting edge area of non-compete law, the Defense of Trade Secrets Act and advising on public company terminations and employment issues.” That expertise will help Nelson Mullins extend such services to existing clients and “grow our practice by providing these services in an efficient and cost-effective manner to others,” Lehman said.

Nelson Mullins, which doubled the size of its Boston office in 2010 after bolting on a local boutique, earlier this year opened its first office on the West coast after hiring five Los Angeles lawyers that do work for the automotive industry. (Mintz Levin, which enjoyed a financially successful 2016, has also been busy in 2017 expanding in California.)

When asked what prompted his decision to leave Mintz Levin, Cohen said that Nelson Mullins “provides a national platform” that “fits my practice.” He also said he welcomed the opportunity offered by Nelson Mullins to serve in a practice leadership position.

Prior to the December 2016 settlement between Mintz Levin and Verdrager, who first filed claims against her former employer roughly a decade ago, a Massachusetts state court had dismissed Cohen from the suit as an individually named defendant. In court filings, Cohen denied claims by Verdrager that he made sexually provocative comments to her. (Verdrager, who survived a state bar disciplinary proceeding initiated against her by Mintz Levin for accessing internal records, now has her own firm in Bedford, New Hampshire.)

In her complaint, Verdrager claimed that within months of joining Mintz Levin from Kelley Drye & Warren, she was the target of inappropriate comments by Cohen, her supervising partner at the firm. But when Verdrager complained to Mintz Levin’s management and human resources office, both found that no gender discrimination against her had occurred. In May 2016, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Mintz Levin had to stand trial in Verdrager’s discrimination suit.

A joint statement issued by lawyers for Mintz Levin and Verdrager at the time of their confidential settlement late last year said that “Kamee and the firm both are dedicated to making the work environment as comfortable, supportive and gender-equal as possible.” The statement also noted that as part of the settlement, Mintz Levin had made a contribution to the PAR Research Institute, an organization that advocates for women in the legal profession.

“It is clear to me that [Mintz Levin] has learned and grown, which is reflected in both the continued progress it has made in its diversity efforts and the collaborative resolution to this matter,” Verdrager said in her own statement at the time. “I am proud to have played a part in the substantial progress the firm has made toward gender equality.”

Neither Verdrager (pictured right) nor representatives from Mintz Levin sought to add any additional comments beyond that statement when contacted about Cohen’s move to Nelson Mullins. (Verdrager spoke last month with The Careerist’s Vivia Chen about how gender bias suits can change the culture of Big Law.)

Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton, both of whom work as law firm consultants at Adam Smith Esq. in New York, declined to comment about Nelson Mullins’ hire of Cohen. But in speaking generally about such matters, the two said they were not surprised that a firm would overlook gender bias allegations in a court case when choosing to make a lateral partner hire.

“There are always two sides to a story,” said MacEwen, who noted that any partner subject to certain allegations could tell their side of a story to a potential hiring firm.

Stanton agreed with MacEwen’s assessment, but said that it would be prudent for the managing partner of any firm in the lateral market to keep their eyes open. She endorsed establishing a one-strike and you’re out policy for firms dealing with new partners.