A former Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman associate has sued the firm in New York state court, alleging that he is a victim of false promises made before he was hired that ultimately led to what he claims was his unjust termination in May.
The associate, Gregory Berry, worked at Kasowitz for just eight months. He claims in a 50-page complaint filed Monday that the firm misrepresented its corporate culture and working conditions when it hired him and refused to offer him a fair severance agreement when it fired him.
Mr. Berry’s suit seeks $2.55 million in estimated lost income, and an additional $75 million in punitive and compensatory damages. The suit names the firm as well as partner Aaron Marks and then-associate Kim Conroy, who is now a partner, both in New York, as defendants. Mr. Berry, who is representing himself, alleges that Mr. Marks and Ms. Conroy conspired to have him fired.
In an e-mailed statement, Mitchell Schrage, Kasowitz’s managing partner of operations and administration, called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said that Mr. Berry “received a substantial severance payment and signed a release and…subsequently threatened the firm with a lawsuit unless the firm paid him even more.” When the firm refused, Mr. Schrage said in the e-mail, “this meritless lawsuit resulted.”
Mr. Berry joined Kasowitz’s New York office in September 2010 after graduating from University of Pennsylvania Law School. He worked at the firm as a summer associate in 2009 after being recruited via an on-campus interview.
For Mr. Berry, who spent 15 years working as a software engineer and entrepreneur in San Francisco before entering law school, becoming a lawyer was a second career, according to the complaint.
Over the course of his time at Kasowitz, Mr. Berry had two run-ins with Mr. Marks, according to the complaint. In the first, Mr. Marks reprimanded him for refusing to help Ms. Conroy with a document-review assignment.
The second incident came a few months later when Mr. Berry, who claims he was light on work assignments at the time, sent e-mails directly to a dozen partners asking for projects to manage. In the e-mail, reproduced in the complaint, Mr. Berry stressed that his past work experience as an engineer made him more valuable than the usual first-year associate, and that “after working here for several months now it has become clear that I have as much experience and ability as an associate many years my senior, as much skill writing, and a superior legal mind to most I have met.”
On May 1, Mr. Marks allegedly told Mr. Berry that several partners were upset by the e-mail, and on May 10, Mr. Berry was terminated, according to his complaint. The firm offered him two months severance and access to his work e-mail to help ease the transition, the complaint states.
When Mr. Berry hired a lawyer to negotiate a better separation agreement, the complaint continues, the firm withdrew the severance offer altogether and cut off his access to office services. Mr. Berry signed the agreement after the firm refused to negotiate, but called the severance unfair, according to the complaint.
Mr. Berry lists multiple claims in his complaint, including negligent misrepresentation, wrongful termination, breach of employment contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Mr. Berry said in the complaint that his early termination has made him unhirable, since he now has “too much experience to get a first-year position, yet not enough to get a lateral-hire position.”
@|Sara Randazzo is a reporter for The American Lawyer, an affiliate of the Law Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.