Ropes & Gray LLP Continues Facing Retaliation Suit

In August 2011, former law firm associate John H. Ray III filed suit against his former employer, Ropes & Gray LLP and thirteen of its partners for racial discrimination and retaliation for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Ray, a Harvard trained lawyer with over twelve years of complex corporate litigation experience, alleges that he was not promoted to partner after eight years of work with the firm because he was African American.

Ray submitted a complaint to the EEOC, claiming that his hours were reduced after he complained to partners and others about a partner’s alleged request that he serve as the “token black associate,” and that he serve as a “black face” during a client meeting. Ray also had complained about an inappropriate racial joke using the word “nigger.” Ray alleged that his billable hours from June to December 2008 were cut to 882.2, compared to 1,111.75 during the same timeframe in 2007 because he complained about being subjected to racial discrimination.

Furthermore, Ray claims that his employer continued to retaliate after he presented his complaint before the EEOC. On December 2008 Ray was informed that he would not become partner, and was given six months to find another employment because the law firm had an “up or out” policy, which established that associates who fail to become partners cannot remain at the firm after a severance period. Ray also alleges that individual partners refused to write recommendation letters, which they had agreed to provide, once they knew that he had filed the complaint. The parties unsuccessfully attempted to resolve the dispute through mediation.

Also, Ray alleges that Rope & Gray retaliated by providing the EEOC determination letter and information found in the employee personnel records to Above the Law, a legal website publishing legal news, gossip and commentary. Ray claims that the information released and the article published about him were severely damaging to his reputation and it included an allegation of criminal misconduct. Ray claims that he requested an extension of his period to find another job and the firm declined in May 2009 but offered a two-month extension if he released the firm from any claims.

After the suit was filed, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns dismissed multiple claims related to unlawful discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Massachusetts anti-discrimination law. The Massachusetts federal judge granted Ray’s motion to amend his complaint to add defamation and invasion of privacy to his retaliation case, after the defendant failed to oppose the motion. Ray’s discrimination complaints were dismissed because he could not show a connection between his evaluations or the Committee’s decision not to promote him to partner. However, Judge Stearns decided that a jury should determine whether the firm retaliated against Ray for complaining to the EEOC about his experience. The Judge stated that a reasonable jury may find Rope & Gray’s and its partners’ explanations of their actions to be pretextual because of the timing of the partners’ refusal to provide the recommendation letters despite their positive remarks about Ray’s performance. Also, although EEOC determinations may be published, sharing such information with a news and gossip blog may dissuade reasonable individuals from making complaints about their employers. As a result, the Judge suggested that a reasonable jury may find that the firm’s communication with Above the Law were a form of retaliation.

The case is scheduled for trial later this month.

If you believe you have suffered from employment discrimination on the basis of your race, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.