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Ex-Jones Day Secretary Sues, Claims Layoffs Targeted Minorities, Troublemakers

Posted Nov 9, 2010 6:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: An African-American legal secretary laid off by Jones Day after nearly 18 years on the job claims in a lawsuit that the firm laid off support staffers in June as part of a bid to “clean house” of minorities and troublemakers.

The amended suit by Jaki Nelson, filed in Los Angeles superior court in September, claims her June layoff was pretextual and alleges racial discrimination, harassment, retaliation and infliction of emotional distress. The eBossWatch.com blog has a summary.

“It appears that Jones Day attempted to utilize a so-called ‘restructuring’ to clean house of racial minorities, and in particular, plaintiff, anyone associated with plaintiff, and anyone who created ‘trouble’ by making claims to or about the [human resources] department,” according to the suit (PDF filed by eBossWatch.com).

Nelson claims in the suit that she didn’t get the same pay and benefits as white employees with similar experience. She says the human resources department took quick action to investigate complaints by white employees. But when Nelson complained, the suit says, the HR department ignored her problems or didn’t take them seriously.

The firm employed only “a handful” of African-American secretaries in Los Angeles, the suit says, and many received unfair pay, bonuses, desk assignments and performance evaluations. Nelson contends that she was chastised for Internet usage at work, while white support staffers also violated firm policies against Internet abuse.

One of Nelson’s lawyers, Johnny Darnell Griggs, tells the ABA Journal that Nelson was making about $55,000 a year at the firm, a figure toward the bottom of the salary range for secretaries in the Los Angeles office. Some were making as much as $80,000 a year, he said. Nine secretaries were laid off in Los Angeles and seven of them were minorities, Griggs says.

The suit alleges, that the partner in charge of Jones Day’s Los Angeles office tolerated racism and once used the N-word to describe a robber. The suit also claims another partner described an employee as a “dirty Mexican” and said, “Can’t you smell the odor?” After Nelson complained, the suit says, the partner slammed doors in her face and walked aggressively toward her, forcing her to get out of the way.

The suit alleges angry lunchtime stares by white lawyers, threats to throw secretaries out the window, after-the-fact billing reports, and a surprise meeting in which two managers chastised Nelson about Internet usage and “took delight in torturing her.”

The law firm did not immediately return a request for comment. Griggs says the firm's answer to the complaint denies the charges and asserts that Nelson was a difficult employee. The suit was dismissed the following July, according to a follow-up story by Above the Law.

Also see:

Above the Law: "Nelson v. Jones Day: Another Side to the Story"

Last updated in May 2012 to note that the suit was dismissed and to add additional coverage by Above the Law.

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