DLA Piper accuser orchestrated 'emotional flirtation' to advance her career, law firm alleges
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A junior partner at DLA Piper who accused a rainmaker of pursuing and groping her wrote an email to herself that shows her actual thinking, DLA Piper asserts.
The junior partner, Vanina Guerrero, had alleged in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge and supplemental letter that rainmaking partner Louis Lehot had pursued, kissed and groped her on four occasions. When she made clear that there would be no relationship, Lehot retaliated, according to Guerrero. Then, when she reported Lehot’s alleged conduct, the firm took no action, she alleges.
But the email, written by Guerrero after three of the alleged sexual assaults, shows her intent to leverage the relationship, according to DLA Piper’s formal response to the EEOC charge. The Recorder and Law360 have coverage.
The email read in part:
“Louis: This man will help me / Control him: friendship w/o anything / It allows his energy to rise / Yes he is in love. / Cannelize [sic] the energy – get me to where I need professionally / Abundance – Libertad / Don’t open up to him. / Leverage it for me …. / (((Make me universal)))”
Other emails and messages show Guerrero “was a willing participant in a lengthy emotional flirtation with Mr. Lehot that she orchestrated to advance her career,” DLA Piper alleges in the response, filed on its behalf by Gibson Dunn.
Lehot has said he had an emotional relationship with Guerrero but has denied assaulting or harassing her.
DLA Piper’s response says Guerrero planned and went on a personal trip to Machu Picchu with Lehot after the date of the fourth alleged assault, something she didn’t mention in her EEOC charge and public accounts.
“A photograph of Ms. Guerrero and Mr. Lehot shows them happily smiling in front of the scenic vista and her wearing a Cartier Love Bracelet and a Bulgari ring he had purchased for her,” the response says. The love bracelet cost $9,000, according to the response.
The relationship between Guerrero and Lehot changed suddenly in July 2019 after a falling out on a work-related matter, the response says. It was at this time that Guerrero spoke with Sang Kim, one of the leaders of DLA’s offices in Northern California. Though Guerrero said Lehot was controlling, she did not report anything about him sexually assaulting her, according to the response.
Guerrero was later taken off the deal, but it was not a case of retaliation, according to DLA Piper. Instead, Guerrero “was removed from the deal at the client’s request, for the client’s own reasons.”
The response says DLA Piper “takes very seriously claims of harassment, retaliation, and unprofessional conduct. In fact, the firm separated with Mr. Lehot on October 11, 2019, due to Mr. Lehot’s poor judgment, including his undisclosed emotional relationship with Ms. Guerrero, another partner in his practice group. However, as explained herein, Ms. Guerrero was neither assaulted nor harassed; nor was she the subject of discrimination.”
The law firm says it placed Guerrero on paid administrative leave after the firm began investigating her claims and learned of serious allegations about her own conduct. The allegations involved a subordinate who reported that “Guerrero engaged in inappropriate behavior toward and harassed, that individual,” the response said.
The law firm also criticized lawyer Leah Christensen, who formerly worked in DLA Piper’s general counsel’s office, for allegedly disclosing privileged communications in a statement to the EEOC.
Christensen’s statement said Lehot was a “textbook bully” who acted as if the rules didn’t apply to him, and she spoke out when she thought he wasn’t complying with conflicts rules.
In response, Christensen alleged, she was told that there was a top 10 list of partners that the general counsel’s office “should not bother.” Lehot was at the top of the list, according to Christensen.
DLA Piper said it was “false and misleading” for Christensen to suggest partners made the list because of their behavior.
“Without divulging the substance of the privileged communication at issue,” the response said, “suffice it to say this was a communication from one of DLA Piper’s lawyers to Ms. Christensen in her role as DLA Piper’s conflicts counsel to outline how she and others in the legal department could screen more effectively the large number of conflicts inquiries received by certain partners with many clients, as those partners naturally received the most conflict-related requests.”
Guerrero’s attorney, Jeanne Christensen of Wigdor, told the Recorder and Law360 that DLA Piper “has managed to reach a new low in the how to smear women that speak out about sexual assault playbook.”
Jeanne Christensen is not related to Leah Christensen.