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Polsinelli’s commitment to diversity was 'mere pretense,' alleges gay ousted partner in bias suit

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A former bankruptcy partner at Polsinelli claims that the firm denied him associate and administrative support, lowered his compensation, de-equitized his partnership, and replaced him with a younger, heterosexual woman, all because of his sexual orientation and age.

Lawyers for former Houston partner Trey A. Monsour filed the suit Tuesday, report Bloomberg Law and Law360.

Monsour, who is gay, is 58 years old. He is now a partner at Fox Rothschild.

The suit says Polsinelli sought to combat its “Midwestern, ‘good old boys’ reputation” to make itself more attractive to progressive clients, but its touted commitment to diversity is “farcical” and “mere pretense.”

As evidence, the suit says Polsinelli has low numbers for hiring and promoting minorities to leadership positions when compared to other top law firms in the United States.

According to the suit, Polsinelli reported in 2019 that at least 72% of its partners were white heterosexual men; 22% of its partners were white heterosexual women; less than of its partners 2% were members of the LGBTQ community; and, at most, 7% of its partners were among all other minority groups combined, including veterans.

Other new partners at the firm got the “red carpet treatment,” including, at a minimum, an assistant, associate attorneys “assigned to their purview,” as well as paralegal and staff support, the suit says.

But when Monsour joined the firm, he says, there was no staff or paralegal support assigned to him, and the associate support that he received “was sparse.” Monsour finally was assigned an assistant, but she was 745 miles away, and he was allowed to communicate with her only by email “because she was ‘too busy’ to communicate with him by telephone,” according to the suit.

Despite being treated differently than other partners, Monsour continued to perform excellent work, leading to a Tier 1 rating for the firm’s Houston bankruptcy practice by U.S. News & World Report, according to the suit. Monsour was the only bankruptcy attorney in Houston. He also outperformed many other colleagues on “clear, quantifiable metrics,” the suit says.

When Monsour pleaded for help, his complaints were ignored and his work conditions worsened, the suit says. He was excluded from meetings, further contributing to a sense of isolation.

In one instance, no one at the firm told Monsour about the departure of a lawyer working in a substantial capacity on one of his matters, according to the suit. Instead, Monsour learned about it from outside co-counsel on the morning of an important hearing. When Monsour expressed concerns, a department chair “condescendingly asked” in an email whether Monsour “was able to stay ‘calm,’” the suit says.

In another “strange episode” in fall 2019, Monsour’s business and personal files were lost when the Houston office relocated to a new space in the same building, the suit says. The lost documents included client files, contracts and personal files containing his will and power of attorney. No other attorney files were lost.

When Monsour was fired by a phone call in March 2020, his supervisor was vague about the reasons for dismissal, saying when pressed that Monsour was “difficult to work with.”

The female lawyer who replaced Monsour “received ample paralegal and administrative support, as well as the blessing of senior attorneys in the group to enlist the help of associates on her matters,” the suit says.

Monsour says the actions taken against him were discriminatory, “a fact starkly punctuated by derogatory comments by firm leaders regarding gay employees that Mr. Monsour overheard firsthand.”

Monsour alleges a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and fraudulent inducement.

Chase Simmons, chairman and CEO of Polsinelli, told Bloomberg Law in a statement that the “allegations are outrageous.”

“The firm will vigorously defend itself against these erroneous and defamatory charges,” Simmons said. “We will do so with the facts, relying primarily on Mr. Monsour’s own words and actions. They will paint a very different story.”

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