Ari Wilkenfeld, a longtime civil rights and employment lawyer in Washington, is representing the woman who brought sexual misconduct claims this week against NBC “Today Show” host Matt Lauer, fired just days after the allegations were made.
Wilkenfeld confirmed to The National Law Journal on Wednesday that he brought the woman’s claims to NBC’s human resources and legal department. He declined to discuss the claims against Lauer, name the victim or otherwise say how his firm—Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson—first got involved. He co-founded the firm in 2013.
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Wilkenfeld’s meeting with NBC marked the latest advocacy in a decades-long career fighting for victims of alleged harassment and retaliation. Wilkenfeld, for nearly two decades, has been a plaintiff-side attorney specializing in employment discrimination, employment contracts and noncompete issues. He earlier worked on management-side cases.
Wilkenfeld Herendeen is involved in a host of cases in Washington courts, including a case where the firm represents a woman who prevailed in a discriminatory hostile work case against the French Embassy. Court documents filed last year in that case showed his billing rate at $460 an hour. The firm also represents a U.S. Interior Department whistleblower, Joel Clement, who is suing Trump administration leadership for records about the reassignment of personnel at the agency.
In the Lauer matter, the woman who made allegations against the NBC host detailed “egregious acts of sexual harassment and misconduct by Mr. Lauer,” Wilkenfeld said in a statement. “In fewer than than 35 hours, NBC investigated and removed Mr. Lauer,” Wilkenfeld said in the statement. “Our impression at this point is that NBC acted quickly and responsibly, as all companies should when confronted with credible allegations about sexual misconduct in the workplace.”
Wilkenfeld’s statement continued, “While I am impressed by NBC’s response to date, I am awed by the courage my client showed to be the first to raise a complaint and to do so without making any demands other than asking the company do the right thing. This is how the system should work.”
Lauer could not be reached for comment. The Wall Street Journal reported that a spokesman for Lauer declined to comment.
An NBC executive said in a statement Wednesday: “Our highest priority is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe and protected, and to ensure that any actions that run counter to our core values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender.”
During Wilkenfeld’s career in Washington he has represented—as he puts it in his biography on his firm’s website—“professionals such as high-level executives, investment bankers, hair salon stylists, fencing and dance instructors, commission-based sales professionals, human resources professionals, university professors, and a wide range of federal employees, including everything from Custom Border Protection officers to food and safety inspectors.”
In another case in 2011, Wilkenfeld sued Gallaudet University in an alleged sexual harassment case, which settled. He was also on the team that represented Susan Lerner, the psychologist who examined John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot then-President Ronald Reagan.
In 2006, Wilkenfeld received a presidential citation from the American Psychological Association for his work fighting “unjust discrimination, sexual harassment and psychological intimidation.”
Before co-founding his firm, Wilkenfeld served as senior counsel to the Law Office of Gary M. Gilbert & Associates and was a founding partner of Katz, Marshall & Banks.
This year, the firm has seen of an uptick in reports of harassment allegations, said Katherine Atkinson, partner at Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson.
“We’ve done this work for a very long time,” Atkinson said Wednesday. “These stories were not in any way surprising to us. These are the calls we get on a near daily basis.”
Rosalind Herendeen, also a partner, said “receptiveness from the outside” has been the biggest change in recent months, although she and Atkinson acknowledged that battles still persist with companies themselves.
“We’d love to see coverage of sexual harassment that occurs beyond famous people,” Atkinson said.