Former Ropes & Gray associate John Ray III’s lawyer characterized him as “a man in a hurry” to fit into Ropes’ white-shoe world as trial got underway Tuesday on Ray’s claims that the firm lashed out at him for filing a discrimination claim.
“We’re here because Ropes & Gray retaliated against John and released his personal information to hundreds of people who didn’t need to know,” Ray’s lawyer, Latif Doman of Washington’s Doman Davis, said during opening statements.
Replying for Ropes & Gray, Lisa Arrowood of Boston’s Arrowood Peters countered that threats by Ray against the firm “became more and more vicious” during the two years between his departure and the day he filed suit. Ray’s settlement demands escalated from $8.5 million to $21.5 million, she said.
Yet Ropes and the various lawyers and professionals he sued “did not retaliate even when he became increasingly hostile,” she said. “All these individuals acted professionally and reasonably.”
The trial is slated to run through Nov. 22. It will test whether the firm retaliated against Ray by withholding promised letters of recommendation and through its May 2011 release of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s initial denial of his discrimination claim to the Above the Law website. That letter contained some of Ray’s confidential personnel information.
Ray joined Ropes in 2005 after working at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Jenner & Block. In December 2008, Ropes told him he wouldn’t make partner and gave him six months to find a new job.
In February 2011, the EEOC concluded that Ropes had retaliated against Ray because he’d filed the discrimination complaint. In August 2011, Ray filed a federal racial discrimination and retaliation case against the firm, 13 of its partners and its former “chief people officer.”
Two years later, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns in Boston 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. But he ruled that the retaliation claim could go to trial.
On Tuesday, Doman explained Ropes’ elite status to a jury that appeared to comprise four white men, three white women and one black man. Partner R. Bradford Malt, a named defendant, is the personal lawyer of former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, he said. Partner Diane Patrick, who was never implicated in the complaint, is the wife of Gov. Deval Patrick.
“In short, Ropes & Gray represents the 1 percent,” Doman said.
He emphasized Ray’s modest Minnesota upbringing by a father who worked as a paint inspector for Ford Motor Co. and a mother who was a teacher. He also noted Ray’s early successes and the praise he’d earned at Ropes, including bonuses of $70,000 in 2006 and $90,000 in 2007.
Doman said he would ask the jury to compensate Ray for “15 years of wasted effort” to “build the reputation that made Ropes & Gray want to hire him in the first place.”
Taking her turn, Arrowood told the jurors that associates at firms like Ropes who don’t make partner are expected to move on and find another job. “There is no shame whatsoever in not being promoted as a partner to Ropes & Gray,” she said.
She signaled that Ropes would portray Ray as litigious, telling jurors they would see evidence that he sued Kachroo Legal Services of Cambridge, Mass., for severance after it terminated him for misconduct in July 2012.
Arrowood showed the jury an enlarged version of an email written to Ray from Ropes partner Randall Bodner rescinding his offer to provide Ray with a recommendation letter. The email cited Ray’s May 2009 demand for $8.5 million.
Arrowood also discussed Ray’s emails to Ropes partner David Mandel, who acted as the firm’s lawyer on these issues for a time. Ray threatened to report Mandel to bar disciplinary authorities and to seek criminal charges against him through the Justice Department.
As for Above the Law, Arrowood said Ropes responded to the site’s request for comment and for a copy of an EEOC letter. These requests followed Ray’s letter to Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow, in which Ray passed along the EEOC’s final finding of retaliation.
“If John Ray was going to inject the EEOC matter into a public forum, Ropes & Gray wanted the public to have the whole story,” Arrowood said.
Sheri Qualters can be contacted at email@example.com.