Former partner's lawsuit claims are 'legally and factually deficient,' Polsinelli says
According to a $20 million lawsuit, two influential senior partners at Polsinelli “employed bait-and-switch tactics, promising [a former international corporate attorney] the chance to discuss case strategy or client development—only to use the ensuing meeting as an opportunity to harass her.” Photo from Shutterstock.
Polsinelli asserts that a former partner didn’t make allegations of sexual harassment until after the law firm decided to fire her for “lackluster performance.”
In an Oct. 26 motion, Polsinelli and partner Gabriel Yomi Dabiri are seeking to dismiss several claims in former partner Julia Rix’s $20 million sexual harassment lawsuit and to send other claims to arbitration, including claims for breach of contract and retaliation.
“Rix’s claims are legally and factually deficient in a number of ways,” the motion says.
If the court was to grant Polsinelli’s motion, the only remaining claim in federal court would be a sexual harassment allegation against Polsinelli under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Several of Rix’s claims allege violation of laws in Washington, D.C., but she agreed in her employment agreement that Missouri law should apply, according to Polsinelli’s motion. And her Missouri law claims “fail for various reasons,” the motion says.
Those reasons include a failure to exhaust administrative remedies by filing a claim with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, preemption of emotional distress claims arising from alleged discrimination, and factual allegations that “fall short of the applicable pleading standard,” according to the motion.
Rix had told the firm before her hiring that she had a seven-figure portable book of business, but “those representations were not reality,” the Polsinelli motion says. In her two-plus years at Polsinelli, not a single client or a matter that she represented would follow her to the firm actually did so, according to the motion.
Rix had alleged in her Sept. 15 suit that she was “repeatedly hounded” by Dabiri and partner Dov H. Scherzer, who wanted her to join them for after-hours drinks and hotel meetings. Rix said she knew that she was being denied business opportunities because the partners wanted to condition “working deals together” with demands for a sexual relationship.
Polsinelli and Dabiri counter that Rix’s poor performance was not the result of any action by the two partners, neither of which had any supervisory authority over her. In addition, Dabiri “strongly denies he ever engaged in any inappropriate conduct toward Rix or that he subjected Rix to sexual harassment or a hostile work environment or retaliation,” the motion says.
After Polsinelli decided to fire Rix, her department co-chair tried to schedule a call to inform her of the decision, but Rix rescheduled it twice. Then the day before the scheduled call, Rix submitted a “vague” complaint about harassment, the motion says.
Rix initially filed the suit in Washington, D.C., superior court. It was removed to federal court Oct. 13.
Law360 had coverage of Polsinelli’s motion.