Legal secretary's suit claims partners' tirades constituted sex bias, caused panic attack
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A legal secretary says two Venable partners yelled, humiliated and demeaned her to such an extent that their conduct constituted sex discrimination under California’s fair employment law.
The suit says verbal abuse by one partner, “a known office bully,” was so bad that she transferred to another partner. He also verbally abused her, culminating in an incident in March 2019 that sent Rabbi to the hospital with a panic attack, the suit says.
“The days when an attorney can make enough money to excuse the verbal abuse and humiliation of the women that work for him are over,” the suit says. “Legal staff is not required to tolerate and even babysit lawyers through tantrums supposedly caused by ‘stress’ or ‘pressure.’ Verbal abuse and humiliation alter the terms and conditions of employment. When this conduct is directed at women, it is sex discrimination.”
Rabbi says she joined Venable with the first partner, whose already abusive conduct worsened because of the pressures of working at an international law firm. The partner yelled at Rabbi, told her that she was “useless to him” and said she was like a child, according to the suit. He allegedly criticized her for calendar conflicts he created and would routinely refer to her “issue with numbers.”
The issue was a condition known as dyscalculia that limited Rabbi’s “major life activities,” the suit says.
Rabbi finally sought a transfer after the partner suggested that he wanted a young, attractive assistant like an employee whose name “was office code” for a trophy secretary, the suit says.
But the abuse didn’t end with the transfer. A new partner “berated her over a federal filing” and “scolded and humiliated” Rabbi in front of several staff members for some alleged issue with a binder, the suit alleges.
The March 2019 incident began with the partner’s anger because he had not received appropriate credit for a matter that Rabbi opened on his behalf, according to the suit. “He was shouting and red-faced,” the suit says. “He was out of control and scary.”
With the assistance of a co-worker, Rabbi left the area. The partner “continued to berate her in front of her co-workers as she left the area and into the hallway/common area,” the suit says. “As Ms. Rabbi was on the floor in the hallway on her hands and knees he rushed passed, screaming at her.”
Rabbi left work and lost consciousness behind the wheel of her parked car. She was rushed to the hospital. After several tests, doctors determined that she had “a severe and debilitating anxiety attack.”
The suit alleges sex discrimination, retaliation, disability discrimination and age discrimination under California’s fair employment law; unfair competition; and infliction of emotional distress.
Venable did not immediately respond to a request for comment.