Clyde & Co., an international law firm, is attempting to move to arbitration a defamation lawsuit brought against the firm and others by a former counsel, arguing Clyde's defense includes evidence of the counsel's conduct that is "of a highly sensitive and often disagreeable nature."
"Arbitration of this matter will protect the privacy of the parties and their potential witnesses," Clyde's attorneys at Fox Rothschild said in court papers. "The defense to Plaintiff's claims will include documentary and other evidence" of the attorney's conduct toward female employees.
Michael Knoerzer, managing partner of Clyde's New York office, said in an affidavit that the evidence includes "an email and photograph of a naked woman that Plaintiff circulated to certain female employees while working at Clyde."
"I don't know what they are talking about," McKay said in an interview, adding that he "had never circulated any kind of objectionable image" and commented that the firm is "grasping at straws."
"I know I haven't done anything of the sort, nor is it relevant at all to the allegations of defamation," McKay said.
Last month, McKay sued Clyde partner Diane Westwood Wilson; Clyde & Co., a 1,400-lawyer London firm with a 40-attorney New York office; firm client Global Aerospace Inc., a London-based aviation and aerospace insurer; and in-house attorney Sharon Holahan, who is director of claims at Global (See Complaint).
McKay alleges Wilson and Holahan made false statements about him that caused substantial injury to his reputation, billings and employment.
At Clyde, McKay served as senior counsel in the firm's aviation practice, with a salary of $275,000. Before joining the firm he had been an assistant vice president and a claims attorney at Global.
McKay claims that while working with Wilson at the firm, he grew concerned with the way she handled cases and said he felt she was overbilling clients.
In September 2011, McKay said he was hired by a Global claims attorney, Karen D'Amico, in connection with the defense of one of its insureds, Air 1st Aviation Companies. McKay said, with Knoerzer's assistance, he opened the client file without designating Wilson as the partner who would be credited with amounts billed.
McKay said D'Amico asked him to review voluminous material relating to the litigation and report on his findings. He said Global paid his bill without objection.
McKay said he completed in 2012 a self-review and career development form and later learned Wilson used "secret backdoor access" of a computer drive to find a copy of his review and his notes on his concerns of her handling cases.
McKay claims Wilson shared the contents of the confidential form with Holahan, the Global claims director, and told her that McKay had overbilled and "churned the file" on the Air 1st matter.
"Those statements were untrue," McKay claims. "Wilson made them knowing that they were false, for the purpose of injuring Plaintiff's reputation with Global," the suit says.
McKay said Holahan told D'Amico not to give him more work, and that Holahan told another Global attorney that McKay had "churned the file" on the Air 1st matter and had improperly taken credit for billings.
Global fired McKay from the Air 1st case in March 2013, and after he relayed this news to the firm, Clyde terminated him, the lawsuit says.
McKay alleges the firm tried to base the firing "on a false scenario they had concocted, but Knoerzer admitted during (a meeting) that the termination was attributable to Plaintiff's failure to maintain a steady flow of work from Global."
McKay, in McKay v. Wilson, 0155186/2013, is seeking $6 million in damages plus punitive damages and interest. The case is before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla (See Profile).
In its attempt to compel arbitration or dismiss the suit, Clyde noted that McKay signed an acknowledgement indicating he would comply with the firm's arbitration policies, and that an arbitral forum would uphold employees' expectations that employment matters remain private.
Clyde said it is anticipated that evidence will include testimony by several female employees concerning McKay's "professional and personal misconduct" and "other similarly crude or embarrassing information" circulated by him.
The firm said alleged defamatory comments "are statements of pure opinion" and any alleged statements from Wilson are expressions of an employer's "subjective evaluation and characterization of Plaintiff's performance."
In Global's motion to dismiss, it said McKay provides no basis for his knowledge that the alleged statements were made.
In McKay's response papers, he said he made a conscious decision not to sign an arbitration agreement.
During his time at Clyde, McKay said, he asked one female employee out on a date and another to join him for dinner as a friend, and on each occasion "Knoerzer swooped in and falsely accused me of 'sexual harassment.'" McKay said he assumes "those false accusations" are the defense the firm refers to.
It was common among a small group of people at Clyde to exchange emails with "gallows humor," McKay said, adding that he "never sent any pornographic or otherwise sexually explicit or suggestive image to anyone at the firm."
He charges that the firm did not follow its own policies, for example, failing to discipline an employee for returning to work intoxicated after lunch or investigating a partner after an employee complained he pressured her for sex after a party.
McKay, who lives in Vermont, said in an interview he is practicing law on his own.
Clyde's attorneys are Fox Rothschild partners Stephanie Resnick in Philadelphia and Daniel Schnapp and James Lemonedes in New York.
"The allegations brought against Clyde & Co. and its partners are entirely without merit and we are vigorously contesting them," Schnapp said in a statement.
Wendy Mellk, a Jackson Lewis partner who represents Global Aerospace and Holahan, did not return a message seeking comment.