Ropes & Gray will face a Boston federal court trial on former associate John Ray III’s claim that the firm retaliated against him for making an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission race-discrimination claim.
Following unsuccessful mediation between the two sides, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns on Tuesday issued an electronic order sending the case to trial with a scheduled November 12 start date.
Stearns wrote that case would test whether the firm retaliated against Ray in two ways: by not giving him promised letters of recommendation and by sending the EEOC’s first determination letter about his case to the Above the Law website in May 2011.
That letter said the commission had rejected Ray’s discrimination and retaliation claims, but subsequently the EEOC found probable cause to believe his retaliation claim. The EEOC letter that Ropes released described the firm’s allegation that Ray committed misconduct against another firm employee.
Stearns gave each side 11 hours to make its case, not including opening and closing statements. In a sign of the contentious court battle to come, Ray responded on Tuesday to a Ropes motion seeking to file documents under seal. He argued that Ropes’ emergency motion “should be treated as a premature motion to preclude evidence.”
Ray joined Ropes in 2005 after working at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Jenner & Block. In December 2008, Ropes gave him six months to find a new job.
Ray alleged that partners cut his assignments in 2008 after he complained about a “nigger” joke and a partner’s request that he serve as the “token black associate” during a meeting with a prospective bank client.
In August, Stearns granted summary judgment to Ropes on Ray’s claims of unlawful discrimination; breach of contract and covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and unfair competition by interfering with his opportunity to work at peer firms. Stearns also granted summary judgment to Ropes’ former “chief people officer” Joy Curtis on Ray’s defamation claim against her.
Neither Ropes nor Michael Keating, the litigation department chairman at Boston’s Foley Hoag who argued for Ropes during a hearing this summer, responded to requests for comment. Ropes’ lawyers at Boston’s Arrowood Peters also did not respond.
Ropes & Gray spurned an attempt to mediate the matter, according to Ray’s lawyer, Latif Doman of Washington’s Doman Davis. He said his client is looking forward to the trial.
“I think we’re going to have an opportunity to demonstrate that Ropes & Gray intimidated, they lied, they did all kinds of things to prevent John from exercising his civil rights,” Doman said.
Sheri Qualters can be contacted at email@example.com.