Law Firms

Law firm's managing partner had a 'fixation' with employee surveillance, wiretap suit says

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The managing partner of a Chicago law firm apparently monitored his employees with video cameras and a telephone system that allowed recording of phone calls, according to a lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Chicago.

The April 7 suit claims that the law firm’s managing partner, Edward “Eddie” Vrdolyak Jr., had a “fixation with audio and video surveillance.”

The suit cites “information and belief” that the firm’s offices in Chicago and Nashville, Tennessee, were equipped with a network of audio and surveillance cameras that Vrodyak monitored from several video screens in his office.

The suit plaintiff is Daniel Alholm, who opened a new Nashville, Tennessee, office for the personal injury law firm, the Vrdolyak Law Group, after being asked to do so in August 2017. Alholm said he resigned from the firm in January 2020 after asking Illinois and Tennessee lawyer regulators about his ethical duties following reports of surveillance.

Alholm’s suit alleges, based on information and belief, that:

• Vrdolyak directed an employee to call Alholm to tell him that he was watching the cameras for the Nashville office and could see that employees were spending too much time on their cellphones.

• Vrdolyak regularly instructed law firm employees to conduct “voicemail audits” in which they reviewed other employees’ voicemail messages. Unanswered voicemail messages were to be reported to Vrdolyak.

• Vrdolyak instructed an employee to “pull the tape” on a February 2019 conference call among Nashville employees to determine whether they were making disparaging remarks about him when the conference room phone was muted. Vrdolyak later told Alholm that the recording confirmed that employees made such remarks. But Vrdolyak later said he didn’t actually record the conference room conversation but had said he did to protect an employee who reported the disparaging comments.

• A law firm employee told Alholm in January 2020, after a new phone system was installed, that all phone calls made on office phones were being recorded and existed in a database on the computer. The employee said he could look up phone calls, click on them and listen to them.

The suit alleges violations of federal, Tennessee and Illinois laws regarding wiretapping and surveillance. Alholm also included a fraud claim based on alleged misrepresentations made when he was hired.

Alholm said he had expressed concerns during a hiring interview that the firm’s founder, Edward Vrdolyak Sr., had been disbarred and imprisoned. The elder Vrdolyak is a former Chicago alderman who pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud in 2008 and tax evasion in 2019, according to a lawsuit footnote.

The younger Vrdolyak and two other partners assured Alholm that its employees were not involved in improper or illegal activity, the lawsuit says. During the interview, Alholm was told that he would be able to focus on mass tort litigation, that he would be provided with sufficient resources, and the firm had recovered more than $9 billion from its clients.

Those claims were untrue, the suit alleges.

After he was hired, Alholm was given 60 to 75 small cases that required him to put in long hours with little or no time to work on his mass tort caseload, the suit says. After he moved to Nashville, the law firm initially financed various marketing campaigns, but its resources turned out to be inadequate, the suit says. The law firm failed to pay bills for advertising, its office supply vendor stopped fulfilling orders, and its credit cards were frequently at their limit and often declined, the suit alleges.

The suit seeks class action status. Vrdolyak did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal message left with his office.

Hat tip to Bloomberg Law, which had coverage of the lawsuit, Alholm v. the Vrdolyak Law Group.

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