Legal secretary’s sex harassment suit claims BigLaw partner said, 'You need a sugar daddy'
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A former legal secretary at Troutman Sanders has sued the law firm and one of its partners for alleged sex bias, sexual harassment and retaliation.
The plaintiff, Jessica Correa, says she was sexually harassed by a partner who stared at her breasts, kissed her without permission, and told her she needed a sugar daddy. Bloomberg Law and Law360 have coverage.
Correa says the partner’s attempts to kiss her caused nausea and, on one occasion, vomiting.
The partner is now a partner at Locke Lord, according to Law360. The suit, filed Aug 12. in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, is here.
Correa’s $1 million suit says she was hired as a legal secretary for two partners at the law firm in January 2017. A month later, one of the partners began calling her “cutie” and stared at her breasts “openly and purposefully,” according to the suit.
During weekly expense meetings, the partner would initiate demeaning conversations with questions such as, “Wow, did you wear that for me?” according to the suit. The partner also began asking Correa “repeatedly and persistently” to go out for dinner with him, the suit says. Correa says she finally acquiesced when he reframed his request as an invitation to a work dinner.
The March 2017 dinner was at Gaonnuri, an upscale Korean restaurant on the 39th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. At the dinner, the lawyer told Correa to pull her chair closer to him and then demanded a kiss as she was leaving, the suit alleges. Correa pushed him away. “Plaintiff felt nauseous and feared that she would throw up,” the suit says.
The partner appeared to back off. In May 2017, Correa told the partner that she may have to take some time off while her mother was suffering from a serious illness. The partner indicated that time off was allowed and said he would also offer financial help if she asked for it, according to the suit.
When Correa asked for financial help, the partner gave her a loan of $500 via wire transfer and a check for $2,100, according to the suit. At their next meeting, the partner allegedly winked at Correa and said, “You know what you need? You need a sugar daddy.”
After that, the partner began making constant comments about Correa’s appearance, “and it was clear that he was no longer ‘behaving,’ ” the suit said. He also renewed the dinner invitations.
In October 2017, the partner had insisted that Correa attend a nonprofit fundraising event with him and then insisted that they share a taxi after the event. When they reached Correa’s stop, the partner hugged her and kissed her unexpectedly, the suit says. Correa was “outraged and humiliated” and made her feelings clear, according to the suit.
After the incident, the partner allegedly told Correa that human resources personnel were watching her attendance and performance, and he alone was trying to save her.
The partner then asked Correa out to dinner around December 2017 at the Wolfgang Steakhouse and Correa agreed, feeling that she had to remain in the partner’s good graces to keep her job, the suit says. The partner allegedly chose a dimly lit table and told Corrrea that he was looking for a friend who could attend Broadway shows, have dinners and go to clubs with him. The partner said he had helped such friends in the past, and he could help Correa in a similar way.
Correa says she told the partner that she was happy working for the partner, but she couldn’t accept his offer because she was “not that kind of woman.”
In a subsequent conversation, the partner made vulgar comments, Correa says. He also began micromanaging her work and deemed it not up to par.
At a subsequent restaurant lunch, the partner planted a kiss on Correa’s lips, the suit says. She excused herself, went to the bathroom and vomited, according to the suit.
Correa finally confided her situation to an associate, who said the partner was known for such conduct and she should report the allegations, the suit says. Correa did so, but she was so anxious that she was unable to attend a scheduled meeting with the human resources director. She instead sought psychological treatment.
Correa says she was constructively discharged from the firm. She sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as New York state and city laws.
A spokesperson for Troutman Sanders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.