A western Pennsylvania woman is suing a Pittsburgh personal injury firm for fraud, alleging that the firm’s false online reviews tricked her into hiring an ineffective lawyer.
Tabatha Wolfe claims that after she reached out to Kraemer, Manes & Associates based on its high online ratings, the firm botched her sexual harassment case against a former employer by letting the statute of limitations on key claims expire.
In addition to accusing the firm of soliciting fake positive reviews, she alleged the firm threatened her with litigation if she did not take down her own negative post about it, in a complaint filed Wednesday in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. The complaint is on behalf of a proposed class of numerous Kraemer Manes clients.
“KM&A and [name partner Michael] Kraemer took overt acts in furtherance of its conspiracy to defraud prospective clients, including but not limited to offering to provide, and actually providing, employees with paid time off in exchange for soliciting false reviews,” Wolfe’s complaint said. “By threatening Wolfe to coerce her into deleting her negative Google review, [Kraemer Manes associate Prabhu] Narahari took overt acts in furtherance of its conspiracy to defraud prospective clients.”
Pittsburgh lawyers Christine Elzer of the Elzer Law Firm and Gregory Paul of Morgan & Paul are representing Wolfe.
Kraemer, reached for comment Friday afternoon, said, “We vigorously deny the allegations in the complaint and we will be strongly opposing them.”
Wolfe alleged that Kraemer, Manes & Associates since 2016, and perhaps as far back as 2013, has ”orchestrated a scheme of soliciting positive online reviews from individuals who have never used KM&A’s services.” That increased the firm’s aggregate score on several review sites like Google, Facebook, Avvo and Lawyers.com, she alleged, which caused her to approach the firm for services.
Wolfe said she first reached out to Kraemer Manes in December 2016 about a potential sexual harassment claim against her former employer, involving an alleged sexual assault at her previous job. She said the firm’s positive reviews on Google caused her to choose Kraemer Manes.
The statute of limitations on her claims ran out just a few weeks after she contacted the firm and completed her intake, the complaint said, on Dec. 26, 2016. Still, the firm issued an EEOC charge in January 2017.
It wasn’t until February 2017, just after her attorney at Kraemer Manes sent a demand letter on her behalf to her former employer, that Wolfe learned about the statute of limitations having expired, the complaint said.
Wolfe also alleged that the attorney initially assigned to her case, Martell Harris, failed to show at a preliminary hearing for Wolfe’s alleged assaulter, even though he had promised to accompany her. After the preliminary hearing, Kraemer Manes assigned a different attorney to Wolfe’s case, the complaint said. But she terminated her representation by the firm days after that, when she learned that some of her claims were time-barred.
She continued to pursue the claims against her former employer that remained, but ”Wolfe’s claims against her former employer had significantly less value than they would have had a sexual harassment claim been timely filed,” her complaint alleged.
In September 2017, Wolfe wrote a one-star review of Kraemer Manes on Google, with a post describing her problems with the firm. According to the complaint, it began: “BEWARE!! Take it from a legitimate client who hired this so called law firm. Don’t do it.”
The complaint said Kraemer Manes responded by sending Wolfe a letter asserting that her review of the firm was defamatory, and threatening to file for injunctive relief to have the post removed if she did not take it down herself.
Wolfe is suing the firm for professional negligence, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, unfair trade practices and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act violations.