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Ex-Associate Sues Nixon Peabody Claiming Discrimination—and Contract Breach

Posted Jan 13, 2009 8:27 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A former associate of Nixon Peabody has filed an employment discrimination suit against the international law firm, saying that he was fired last year because of his gender, race and national origin.

Henry Har contends in a Los Angeles Superior Court complaint (PDF) filed last month that he was subjected to homophobic taunting and ridicule after he transferred from the San Francisco office of Nixon Peabody to its Los Angeles office, reports the National Law Journal.

His suit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful discharge, contending that his firing violated public policy and that that the firm's "conduct, words, custom, policies, oral assurances and past practices" created an implied covenant that he would only be terminated for good cause.

A successful member of the public finance group in San Francisco, Har was transferred to Los Angeles to help expand the firm's public finance practice there, according to the lawsuit. But once he started working in Los Angeles it became clear that Har was never going to fit in with what he describes in the suit as an office culture in which racist, sexist and homophobic comments were commonplace.

Among his claims, Har contends that a Los Angeles partner once asked him, as the legal publication puts it, "whether an office administrator, who is openly gay, gave Har oral sex." He also alleges that "the partner responsible for his firing called him a 'thin-skinned mama's boy,' " the NLJ notes.

Har was fired on Feb. 22, 2008, based on what the lawsuit describes as a "completely false" accusation made by a fellow attorney that Har had "bull-rushed" him at a firm-sponsored happy hour after a verbal disagreement about whether Har had moved the fellow attorney's jacket. (Har says he explained at the time that he had carefully folded the jacket and placed it next to him, and contends that the fellow attorney had a history of emotional outbursts.)

The law firm responded to a request for comment from the National Law Journal with a written statement saying that Nixon Peabody doesn't discuss pending litigation but "is committed to providing an open and inclusive workplace" and "resolutely denies Mr. Har's charge of discrimination and will vigorously respond to it in court."

Har, who is a graduate of New York University School of Law, is now an associate at Holland & Knight in San Francisco.

His suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees, among other relief.

Hat tip: Above the Law.

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