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Former Davis Polk associate may pursue retaliation claim, judge says; other racial bias claims tossed

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A federal judge in Manhattan has ruled that a Black former associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell can pursue a retaliation claim against three partners, but many of his other racial bias claims were inadequate.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods of the Southern District of New York allowed former associate Kaloma Cardwell to pursue claims that three partners retaliated against him after he filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a state agency in New York, report Thomson Reuters Legal, Bloomberg Law and Law360. But Woods dismissed all claims against three other partners.

Cardwell, who is Black, had claimed that he was excluded from opportunities at Davis Polk and isolated from partners in his mergers and acquisitions group. He was given so little work after he complained about racial bias that he billed only 5.9 hours over a three-month period, he alleged. He was told that he would be fired in February 2018, and his last day at the firm was in August 2018.

Cardwell had alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act, and New York state and city human rights law.

In an Oct. 24 opinion, Woods said Cardwell had not adequately alleged that race was a motivating factor for the six partners’ actions or that he was subjected to “an objectively hostile work environment.”

Assigning less work to an employee could be part of a hostile work environment claim, but alone it was not sufficient, Woods said. He also said it was “insignificant” that partners ignored Cardwell in the hallways. And Woods said Cardwell was too vague in his claim that he was wrongly blamed for things that weren’t his fault.

Woods allowed Cardwell to file an amended complaint on many of his dismissed claims.

Woods’ ruling did not address Cardwell’s racial discrimination claims against Davis Polk and two of its former leaders because they were not part of the motion to dismiss before the court, according to Thomson Reuters Legal.

Davis Polk gave a statement to Thomson Reuters Legal and Law360.

“With the court’s dismissal of a substantial part of the case based solely on deficiencies in the complaint, we now look forward to demonstrating that the remaining claims have no factual basis and also should be dismissed,” the statement said. “The firm’s management and partners acted entirely properly at all times.”

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