Former Pierce Bainbridge paralegal sues firm and ex-partner over alleged sex assault
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A paralegal who alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a former partner at Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht has emerged from the shadows with a lawsuit that she filed Thursday.
The Aug. 6 suit, filed in the Southern District of New York, alleges a hostile work environment, disparate treatment, and retaliation by fired partner Donald Lewis and the law firm. The suit also alleges defamation by Lewis.
The plaintiff, Selina Kyle, contends that Pierce Bainbridge is strictly liable for the conduct of Lewis, who allegedly grabbed her breast when she saw him masturbating in his office one weekend in July 2018.
Kyle says she ran into the bathroom after the incident, where she had a panic attack. When she finally left the bathroom, Lewis allegedly told Kyle, “If you tell anyone what happened, you are gone. I was friends with [John Pierce] at Harvard, and if you tell anyone you are finished.”
After that, the suit says, Lewis began to complain about Kyle’s work, although it was unwarranted. He also made “inappropriate, offensive and often misogynistic comments” on the firm’s internal Slack messaging channel, facilitating “a male-dominated ‘bro’ culture at the firm,” the suit alleges. He also allegedly used “outrageous sexual and misogynistic language in the workplace,” according to the suit.
The allegations were at the center of a flurry of litigation between Lewis and Pierce Bainbridge. Lewis alleged that he was fired in retaliation for his knowledge of financial improprieties at Pierce Bainbridge, while the law firm contended that Lewis was fired after groping the employee and disparaging several partners.
Lewis claimed that Pierce Bainbridge was trying to destroy his career and reputation by submitting “outright lies in court filings.” In a motion for sanctions, Lewis contended that the law firm enlisted the employee to fabricate false accusations of sexual misconduct.
Kyle’s suit says the incident did happen, and Lewis defamed Kyle when he sought to “discredit, intimidate and silence her in order to rehabilitate his own reputation after his termination from Pierce Bainbridge.” Although Lewis referred to her as “Jane Doe,” her identity could be discerned by details in court filings, Kyle’s suit says.
“This retaliatory and tortious conduct culminated in Mr. Lewis filing a retaliatory and defamatory lawsuit against Ms. Kyle,” her suit says, “simply for her attempts to protect her identity amid one of the multiple gratuitous lawsuits being thrown back and forth like darts between Pierce Bainbridge and Mr. Lewis.”
Kyle is represented by the Wigdor law firm.
In a statement to the Journal, Lewis labeled Kyle a “false accuser.”
“The allegations are a complete fabrication, abject lies. This disgraceful and racist weaponization of #MeToo undermines real victims and detracts from a serious cause,” said Lewis, who is Black, in an email.
Kyle is now employed at Hecht Partners, he said.
“I’ve strong reason to believe the false accuser has been weaponized and used by both law firms … to deflect from my exposure of extremely troubling issues,” Lewis said. “I look forward to a public airing of the issues and clearing my name.”
Pierce Bainbridge name partner John Pierce sent this statement to the ABA Journal: “We stand in firm support of the principle that all individuals who report allegations of sexual harassment or assault deserve to have those allegations fully investigated and have their day in court. We also stand in firm opposition to anyone who attempts to retaliate. Ms. Kyle did a terrific job for Pierce Bainbridge. She deserves justice and to be able to move on with her life once these allegations are litigated. The firm is aware there are strict liability laws that apply to employers in New York, and we will fully cooperate with the judicial process.”
Updated Aug. 6 at 4:20 p.m. to include comments from John Pierce.
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