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DLA Piper junior partner alleges 'horrific conduct' by rainmaking partner

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A DLA Piper junior partner is alleging that a rainmaking partner who recruited her to the firm pursued and groped her, and then retaliated when she rejected his advances.

Vanina Guerrero asks to be released from mandatory arbitration in an open letter to the firm’s co-chairmen, Roger Meltzer and Jay Rains. She details the allegations in a supplemental letter to a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission., NBC News and Bloomberg Law have coverage.

“I experienced such horrific conduct at the hands of a senior male partner and deserve to openly litigate my claims,” she wrote in the letter.

Guerrero says she reported the situation to Sang Kim, one of the leaders of DLA’s offices in Northern California. He allegedly responded that it sounded like a he-said, she-said situation, and she should talk it out with four senior partners, including the partner she accused.

According to Guerrero, the partner who recruited her had groped or kissed her on four occasions and caused her to have panic attacks and other medical conditions that sent her to the emergency room several times. She also alleges, through her attorney’s supplemental filing with the EEOC, that the partner “regularly throws temper tantrums in and out of the office,” and no one at the law firm has reined him in.

Guerrero alleges the conduct first occurred in a hotel room on a business trip in Shanghai, less than two weeks after she left her job as a general counsel in Hong Kong to join the firm in September 2018. Guerrero alleges the partner invited her to his hotel room to discuss business, where he physically hugged and groped her. She pushed him away. Also on the trip, the partner allegedly told Guerrero she needed to change how she dressed, and he bought her dresses and shoes without asking her permission.

The senior partner “engaged in the same routine” of groping during a business trip to Brazil, where he had an outburst when Guerrero asked whether two male associates on the trip could be included when working or at dinner, the supplemental filing alleges.

The next assault occurred in Chicago, where the partner allegedly said he couldn’t wait any more and wanted to have an affair, Guerrero says. The fourth incident was in Palo Alto at a party at the partner’s home, the filing says. Afterward, the partner told Guerrero he had spent the entire night sobbing because she had rejected him, the supplemental filing alleges.

The retaliation included “obstinate silence,” exclusion from work-related matters, accusations of underperformance, and a recommendation against a bonus, according to the supplemental filing and the open letter.

The law firm issued a statement to the ABA Journal. “We are aware of these allegations by one of our partners and take them seriously,” the firm said through a spokesperson. “As soon as we were notified of the allegations, we took appropriate steps to investigate them. This process is ongoing.”

Guerrero’s lawyer is Jeanne Christensen of Wigdor. “No victim of sexual assault or harassment should ever be denied access to our court system,” she said in a statement emailed to the ABA Journal. “DLA Piper should lead by example and do what is right for its female employees. No longer should female employees be silenced to protect its male centric leadership.”

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