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Sullivan Involvement in Wrongful Termination Suit

Sullivan Involvement in Wrongful Termination Suit

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Published by normanomt
Democratic House candidate Rip Sullivan's role in a wrongful termination/gender discrimination suit.
Democratic House candidate Rip Sullivan's role in a wrongful termination/gender discrimination suit.

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Published by: normanomt on Aug 13, 2014
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08/15/2014

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Sullivan Involvement in Wrongful Termination / Gender Discrimination Suit
Highlights
 
When an associate (Danielle Cesarano) received a burn that caused physiological damage and impaired her ability to work, Sullivan pressured her to return to work earlier than her doctor recommended and made little accommodation of her reduced hours requirements
 
Sullivan failed to rotate her back onto her prior cases and did not make new case assignments from her, arguably keeping her billable hours low enough to justify termination
 
Imposed an anomalously high 200 billable hours a month standard on her, apparently as a sort
of “catch up” requirement to make up for her medical leave, and threatened termination if she
did not achieve this goal
 
Whereas Sullivan was patient with able-bodied male associates with low billable hours and
made excuses for them, he refused to take Cesarano’s circumstances, or her efforts to keep
total hours up, into account
 
Sullivan instructed Cesarano to downwardly revise her actual billable hours, which prompted another partner to say Sullivan was playing games and that the head of the Litigation
Department would “shit a brick if he knew that Rip had told you to do those things”
 
 
He also postponed her performance evaluation, with the firm initially withholding the evaluation even after it was finally conducted, giving her no opportunity to respond to or make changes based upon its findings
 
When Cesarano confided to Sullivan that she felt she was being discriminated against on the
basis of her disability, he “responded that he did not like her reference to discrimination” rather
than addressing her concerns
 
Sullivan told Cesarano that “if you’re still injured, you’re of no use to anyone”
 
 
He also told her she was “difficult to staff” because her injury made her “unreliable” and that
the firm might not be
able to keep “carrying” her
 
 
He was dismissive of a capital murder case she handled pro bono, dismissing it as “a little pro bono matter”
 
 
Ultimately, he was the person who recommended her termination
Case Background
In April 2001, while attending a trial training program for employer Reed Smith, then-third year associate Danielle Cesarano sustained a severe burn injury when a defective coffeemaker overflowed onto her right hand, sustaining nerve damage and a condition diagnosed as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy / Complex Regional Pain System.
1
 This allegedly resulted in permanent serve pain and substantial physical limitations
(“At times, the pain is so intense that Ms. Cesarano feels as if her hand is
1
 
“Plaintiff Danielle R. Cesarano’s Opposition to Motion for Partial Summary Judgment,”
Danielle R. Cesarano v. Reed Smith, LLP
, Civil Action No 03-08644 at 1-2 (Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Civil Division, filed Oct
22, 2004) (“Opposition to
 
Summary Judgment”).
 
 
 
on fire. At still other times, part of Ms. Cesarano’s hand
 goes completely numb, and is rendered
useless”)
.
2
 A month later, Ms. Cesarano was selected to lead an intensive document review, during which she
alleged exacerbation of her injury, but for which the head of the firm’s Litigation Department
commended her
for a “terrific job.”
3
 After this, however, she was forced to take a medical leave of absence, during which time the firm temporarily removed her from payroll, and upon her return, she alleged the firm refused to provide reasonable accommodations (e.g., voice-recognition software, an ergonomic chair), intentionally limited her assignments, treated her inappropriately, established unrealistic goals to cause her to fail, and ultimately forced her out of the firm,
4
 despite more senior associates with higher salaries providing fewer billable hours without being drummed out of the firm.
5
 Rip Sullivan was her Practice Group Leader,
6
 and as her supervisor, features prominently in the narrative and the subsequent litigation. He is alleged to have made a number of dismissive comments and was the driving force in her termination, in which she alleges disparate treatment with male associates in
Sullivan’s practice group, along with discrimination on the basis of her disability.
 The case dragged on for over eight years from October 24, 2003 to December 2, 2011, with Cesarano
alleging violations of the D.C. Human Rights Act regarding the firm’s response to her disability, wrongful
termination given the circumstances of her dismissal, and gender discrimination on the grounds that less productive able-bodied males were tolerated while her employment was terminated.
7
 The case was
initially dismissed as time barred, but on appeal, the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed the Superior Court’s
ruling on applicable statutes of limitations
8
 and remanded the case to the Superior Court for reconsideration on the merits. Ultimately, the parties settled out of court on undisclosed terms.
9
 
Circuit Court Factual Summary
Although details of the case are better gleaned from other filings, and most of the following is reiterated in other sections below, the factual summary of the D.C. Court of Appeals is worth quoting at length due to its authoritative status. As a general summary of the case record: The record in this case reveals that on October 24, 2003, Ms. Cesarano filed a complaint against her employer, Reed Smith. She alleged that she was employed as an associate around March 20, 2000, and was assigned to the litigation department. On April 29, 2001, while she was
2
 
Id.
at 10. Be aware that she apparently reached a settlement with the hotel and the coffeemaker manufacturer, so she could be accused of being overly litigious.
3
 
Id.
 at 2.
4
 
Id.
 at 2-3.
5
 
“Plaintiff’s Statement of Material Facts at Issue,”
Danielle R. Cesarano v. Reed Smith, LLP
, Civil Action No 03-08644 at 39-
46 (Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Civil Division, filed Dec Oct, 2004) (“Material Facts at Issue”).
 
6
 Opposition to Summary Judgment,
supra
, at 3.
7
 Material Facts at Issue,
supra
, at 39.
8
 
Vanderford, Richard. “Ex
-
Reed Smith Attorney’s Disability Suit Revived.” Law360, March 4, 2010. Available at
9
 See docket for
Danielle R. Cesarano v. Reed Smith, LLP
, 2003 CA 08644 B.
 
 attending a Reed Smith trial training program, Ms. Cesarano's dominant hand was burned. As a result of her right hand injury, she developed complex regional pain syndrome/reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a physiological disorder affecting the neurological body system. The disorder, characterized as permanent, caused extreme pain and resulted in medical limitations on her activities. She required physical therapy, occupational hand therapy, nerve block procedures, and she had to take prescribed medication. Based upon the recommendation of her physician, Ms. Cesarano took a leave of absence from June 13 to July 12, 2001, for treatment of her hand injury. During her leave of absence, Ms. Cesarano requested accommodations by Reed Smith for her disability. Specifically, she requested (1) a reduced-hour schedule, (2) voice recognition software, and (3) an operator's headset for her telephone. Upon her return to Reed Smith, Ms. Cesarano worked four hours per day. Around July 19, 2001, she complained about the difficulty of working without voice recognition software. In response, Richard Sullivan, her supervisor at the law firm, allegedly
informed Ms. Cesarano “that if she was still injured, she was ‘of no use to anyone.’
Ms. Cesarano experienced difficulty in obtaining sufficient work assignments at Reed Smith to meet the billing expectations of the firm. On July 20, 2001, Ms. Cesarano complained to her employer that she was receiving neither reasonable accommodation for her disability, nor enough work to generate billable hours. Reed Smith's managing partner of the firm's District of Columbia office, Douglas Spaulding, advised
Ms. Cesarano “that she had experienced a ‘stutter step’ in her career,” that the firm could not “carry her,” and that
 
she might be “pushed out” of the firm…”
 10
 On allegations of gender discrimination:
Count V, entitled, “Sex discrimination in violation of the [DCHRA],” contained allegations concerning (1) the differential treatment of males and females in the firm; (2)
hostile treatment
of female associates by a female partner; (3) verbal abuse by a male partner; (4) yelling, name
calling and retaliation by two male partners and a female partner when she asked the female partner, in November 2000, to be relieved of wor
king with the male partner; (5) her support by other members of the firm and the assignment of adequate billable work until her injury; (6) removal from one of her cases and replacement by a male associate; (7) instructions around Winter 2002, “to follo
w a strategy of writing off hours that purportedly would help her gain
respect at the firm”; (8) instruction around March 2002 “to seek the advice [of] ‘one of the
guys' to verify the legal research conducted and the advice provided by [her] on a specific
project”; (9) her termination from the firm (Reed Smith “terminated [her] in whole or in part
because of [her] gender and because of the objections she raised as to her treatment by [a male
10
 
Danielle R. Cesarano v. Reed Smith, LLP
, Case No. 07-CV-1065 at 2-3 (District of Columbia Court of Appeals, decided Mar 4, 2010).

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