Former Proskauer COO withheld raises to create resentment, spur moves to new firm, amended suit says
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Former Proskauer Rose chief operating officer Jonathan O’Brien is accused in a revised lawsuit of withholding raises and promotions for key Proskauer Rose employees to spur resentment and make them amenable to joining his would-be new firm, Paul Hastings.
O’Brien was initially accused of downloading sensitive Proskauer Rose information on a thumb drive and printing a “black book binder” showing partner compensation and performance, as well as allocation of the firm’s profits. He had claimed that he took the information so he could work while on vacation in Africa.
The revised suit includes those allegations while adding additional accusations.
Law.com, Reuters and Bloomberg Law have coverage of the May 8 amended complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The revised suit said O’Brien deleted “substantial numbers” of text message, emails and other data after the initial complaint was filed.
Paul Hastings withdrew its job offer to O’Brien after the initial December 2022 suit became public. He had been offered $1.5 million in base compensation to work there, along with $2.2 million in bonuses payable through June 2023, according to the amended suit.
One new allegation is that O’Brien defrauded Proskauer through “pervasive and protracted” expense abuses and reimbursement fraud. Proskauer Rose also paid $142,500 to a charity in which O’Brien was personally involved after O’Brien circumvented the firm’s internal controls, according to the suit.
Another new allegation is that O’Brien gave confidential information about a Proskauer Rose recruiting initiative to the chair of Paul Hastings, who used it “to Proskauer’s detriment.”
Law.com identified the chair as Frank Lopez.
The suit said O’Brien was planning to join Paul Hastings with Leigh Anne Whyte, then the chief financial officer of Proskauer Rose. Four other key Proskauer Rose employees were also being discussed for roles at Paul Hastings.
Before she left Proskauer Rose, Whyte allegedly helped O’Brien “in breaching his fiduciary duties to the firm,” the suit said. Whyte is an Australian citizen who’s thought to be currently residing in that country, the suit said.
Publications covering the amended suit were unable to reach Whyte for comment.
Paul Hastings gave this statement to Law.com: “Paul Hastings neither solicited nor received any confidential or proprietary information. This continues to be another firm’s personnel dispute and we do not comment on other firms’ personnel matters.”
Paul Hastings also said it regularly recruits “across both our legal and business services roles in the ordinary course.”
A lawyer for O’Brien, Russell Beck of Beck Reed Riden, gave this statement to Law.com: “It seems, unfortunately, that the amended complaint was drafted with an eye toward using the media as an unwitting vehicle for salacious coverage. Mr. O’Brien will instead respond in the proper venue of the court.”
The case is Proskauer Rose v. O’Brien.