A former attorney with Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman has sued the firm and some of its partners after she was allegedly let go for taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Melissa C. Angeline has sued the firm, managing partner Jason Copley and partners Marc Furman and Jonathan Landesman in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She alleges they fired her at the conclusion of her leave under the FMLA, defamed her by telling other attorneys she was fired for poor performance and misappropriated her name and likeness by keeping her picture on the firm website after she was gone.
The firm has said it will hire outside counsel to defend the case.
"This is an unfortunate situation," Copley said. "However, we deny all of the allegations which are entirely without merit as Cohen Seglias handled all aspects of Ms. Angeline’s employment with the firm in an appropriate and lawful manner."
Copley said it would be inappropriate for him to comment further given the matter is in litigation.
Angeline started at Cohen Seglias in July 2007 as a contract attorney. She moved up to a senior associate position in January 2008 and then senior counsel in December 2010. According to her complaint in Angeline v. Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman, Angeline consistently received performance ratings of "exceeds expectations." She also claimed in the complaint that she was profitable for the firm, maintaining a "high realization rate for the hours she billed."
Angeline developed an unspecified health condition in April 2012 and was hospitalized May 15 and 16 of that year with a follow-up trip to the emergency room May 18, 2012. She was out of work until May 23, 2012, according to the complaint.
Angeline said in the complaint Cohen Seglias documented her time off as falling under the FMLA and noted in that documentation that she would need additional leave on an intermittent basis moving forward.
In July 2012, according to the complaint, Cohen Seglias stopped paying Angeline a salary and began paying her on an hourly basis. Angeline alleged in her complaint that despite her medical condition she was still performing at the same level of work, which was reflected in a June 2012 performance review by Landesman.
On October 16, 2012, as Angeline’s FMLA leave "was or was about to be exhausted for the year," she was terminated effective October 31, 2012, according to the complaint.
Furman and Landesman allegedly told Angeline that her employment was not being permanently terminated, but that she was being "temporarily laid off because of a lack of work." They allegedly told Angeline the decision to lay her off had nothing to do with her job performance, according to the complaint.
Angeline alleged Furman conceded to her that she would not have been laid off but for her health condition, according to the complaint. She said she was the only attorney laid off in 2012 due to an alleged lack of work. Angeline noted in the complaint that despite the alleged lack of work, Cohen Seglias experienced an "abundance of business" between 2012 and the present, hiring multiple laterals, acquiring two firms and opening new offices.
When she was laid off, Furman allegedly told Angeline it was a "temporary layoff" with an expected recall of January 2013, according to the complaint. Angeline said she asked whether she should clear out her office. She was allegedly told to leave her office the way it was but take any personal items she might want during the layoff. But, Angeline alleged in the complaint, within days of leaving the firm, her office was packed up and her belongings were moved to storage. They were eventually sent to Angeline’s home, she said.
Angeline further alleged in the complaint that certain partners, who she did not name, have told certain firm attorneys that Angeline was terminated for poor performance. She also said in the complaint that the firm continued to use her picture on its website for "some period" after she left and that it used her name and likeness in a winter newsletter issued after she left.
"Adding insult to injury, the firm terminated Ms. Angeline’s health insurance coverage — coverage that she desperately needed due to her ongoing health problems — even though she had timely elected continuation of the coverage and paid the premium for the coverage in full," Angeline said in her complaint.
In describing her count against the firm under violations of the FMLA, Angeline alleged the firm fired her in retaliation for exercising her right to take leave under the FMLA. She said the defendants believed she would attempt to take additional FMLA leave and terminated her because of it, according to the complaint.
Under the FMLA count, Angeline is seeking wages, salary and benefits lost, reinstatement or front pay in lieu of reinstatement, liquidated damages and attorney fees and costs. Under the defamation and misappropriation of name and likeness claims, Angeline is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Edward S. Mazurek of the Mazurek Law Firm represents Angeline in the case.
Aside from the federal suit, Mazurek said Angeline, 42, also has pending charges against the firm before the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Mazurek said those charges are related to disability, sex and age discrimination.
She currently has her own labor and employment firm, The Angeline Law Firm. Prior to joining Cohen Seglias, Angeline worked at Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
Calls to Furman and Landesman were also not returned.