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Partner ran office 'like a toxic boys club locker room,' fired Thompson Hine lawyer alleges

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A fired income partner at Thompson Hine has filed a gender bias lawsuit against the law firm alleging that a former vice chair of litigation ruled the firm’s New York office “like a toxic boys club locker room.” (Image from Shutterstock)

Updated: A fired income partner at Thompson Hine has filed a gender bias lawsuit against the law firm alleging that a former vice chair of litigation ruled the firm’s New York office “like a toxic boys club locker room.”

Lawyer Rebecca Brazzano, who had worked as the firm’s pro bono committee chair, filed the pro se suit Feb. 23 in federal court in New York City, reports. Thompson Hine and three partners are named as defendants.

The suit alleges that Thompson Hine “enables rampant and disturbing discriminatory conduct by partners,” including former New York litigation vice chair Richard De Palma. He is the partner accused of perpetuating an “old boys’ network” and “reshaping the cultural landscape into a warped reflection of his exclusive locker room vision.”

Defendant Deborah Read, the outgoing managing partner, is accused of failing to put a stop to the toxic environment. Defendant Thomas Feher, an Ohio partner, is accused of writing a defamatory letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after Brazzano filed a charge of discrimination with the agency.

Brazzano was of counsel when she began work at the firm in 2008. She was elevated to income partner in 2013, “which is a meaningless title more akin to an albatross,” the suit says. She was treated as an employee and had no input or influence over Thompson Hine decisions.

Brazzano left the firm in 2022 after being asked to resign under the pretext that her billable hours were too low, according to the suit. The termination happened after she initiated a pro bono audit.

De Palma had “vociferously proclaimed his disapproval” of Brazzano’s elevation to income partner, and her promotion “paradoxically fueled De Palma’s deep-seated and fervent animosity,” the suit says.

“De Palma made sure plaintiff did not get a single billable hour through his intentional effort to exclude plaintiff from any incoming work,” according to the suit.

Instead, the suit alleges, De Palma “horded” incoming work or sent it to male equity partners. The suit also says he falsely portrayed a damaged-art case as a pro bono effort to promote his art-law group and had a “volatile reaction” when Brazzano exposed his “faux pro bono endeavors.”

The “hostile frat boy work environment” included De Palma’s “command performance litigation meetings [where] he merely recanted tales of his weekend escapades, which were off topic and off-color,” the suit says.

The suit says De Palma also bragged about his second marriage to his former associate, failed to protect his secretary from his male clients’ sexual harassment, kissed “other female lawyers in his entourage ‘hello’ at firm meetings;” and demanded that Brazzano inform him when she left the office.

The suit says De Palma’s demand for information about Brazzano’s whereabouts was “devoid of any discernible business purpose but was solely to ensure and interject his dominance over her professional interactions.”

When Brazzano attended De Palma’s meetings, he made “snotty comments,” such as “nice of you to show up,” the suit says. Brazzano alleges that she was singled out because of her gender and because she “would not subordinate herself to De Palma’s misogynistic values.”

In one meeting with Brazzano, De Palma described a new pro bono opportunity at the appellate level and stated that “judges know lawyers who provide legal services are working on a pro bono basis, and it’s like getting jerked off by a judge,” the suit says.

“The sexual images of De Palma masturbating with a judge were truly disturbing and disgusting, and that is the image that stuck with plaintiff,” the suit says. The thought “was repulsive for obvious reasons.”

A Thompson Hine spokesperson told that the suit “does not have merit, and the firm intends to defend fully against her allegations.” also summarized allegations in Feher’s letter to the EEOC. The letter said the firm was losing money on Brazzano because she did not originate enough work to cover her compensation for eight years of her nine-year income partnership.

De Palma had opposed Brazzano’s promotion because she did not spend enough time at the office, and he had “a long track record of working well with female attorneys,” Feher’s letter said.

The ABA Journal asked De Palma for comment. He forwarded the Journal’s email to a firm spokesperson, who sent along the firm’s statement that the complaint is without merit.

Updated Feb. 27 at 2:45 p.m. to reflect Richard De Palma’s comment and his law firm’s statement to the ABA Journal.

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