Law Firms

Jurors rule for Davis Polk in former associate’s retaliation suit; defense called his claims a ‘conspiracy theory’

  • Print.

Post-it note with the word retaliation written on it

(Image from Shutterstock.)

Federal jurors in New York City ruled for Davis Polk & Wardwell on Monday in a suit by a fired Black associate who claimed the law firm retaliated against him after he complained about racial disparities.

The plaintiff, Kaloma Cardwell, “appeared stoic as the verdict was read,” according to coverage by, which reports that jurors deliberated for about three hours. Law360, on the other hand, reports that deliberations lasted a little more than two hours.

Jurors found Davis Polk and two former firm leaders who remained in the suit had no liability.

Cardwell had claimed Davis Polk created “a pretextual record” against him, assigned him to fewer M&A deals, gave him lower-level assignments that could be performed by someone with lesser skills, isolated him and ignored him. He was fired in August 2018.

At trial, Cardwell said he was the target of a “secret scheme” to oust him, the Law360 story reports. He testified it was “impossible” that his work was as bad as portrayed in some reviews.

U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods had barred Cardwell from pursuing discrimination claims because of inadequate allegations, but the judge did allow jurors to consider retaliation.

At trial, the defense had contended Cardwell received mixed feedback even before he claimed discrimination, according to the story. Cardwell’s view of the case was a “conspiracy theory,” according to the closing argument by Davis Polk lawyer Jeh Johnson, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

One witness, professional development manager Rocio Clausen, testified about an instance in which Cardwell refused a request to help the law firm’s credit group with an assignment because it would take time away from his work in the mergers and acquisitions group.

Clausen said Cardwell was working fewer hours than other M&A lawyers, and his reaction “is not the traditional response, especially as an associate at a big, very very good law firm.”

She also described Cardwell’s body language during their meeting as “cavalier.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.