Kamisha Menns, an attorney and former Associate in the Brussels, Belgium office of Howrey LLP, filed a $30 million lawsuit today in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Civil Division, alleging that the AmLaw100 headquartered in Washington, D.C., discriminated against her because of her race and national origin.
Ms. Menns is a Black woman and citizen of Jamaica with three post-graduate legal degrees, including an LL.M. in Trade Regulation and Antitrust Law from New York University. Courted by Howrey while she was an Associate at the Washington, D.C. office of Fresh fields Bruckhaus Deringer, LLP, Ms. Menns worked in Howrey’s Brussels office from mid-January 2009 until June 2, 2009, when she was terminated just one day after she made a formal written complaint of discrimination to Howrey’s D.C. headquarters.
Although in the United States Howrey is known for its public emphasis on “diversity” as one of the Firm’s “core values,” Ms. Menns is the first and only Black attorney to ever work in Howrey’s Brussels office.
As detailed in today’s Complaint, from almost her first day at Howrey, Ms. Menns was subjected to escalating hostility and discrimination from colleagues, staff and supervisors. “When I talked to the Brussels Managing Partner, Trevor Soames, about the way I was being treated,” Ms. Menns explained, “he told me that what I was experiencing was racism, which he recognized as a Jewish person. He told me the staff was reacting in that way because they had never been forced to be in a subordinate position to a Black person, particularly a Black woman with my level of education or who looked and spoke like I did,” Ms. Menns said. “After I met with Managing Partner Soames, the racially charged comments and racial stereotyping from other attorneys in the office actually escalated.”
The Complaint details numerous specific incidents of discrimination and harassment inflicted on Ms. Menns by her colleagues and superiors at Howrey, including exclusion from meetings, racial stereotyping, physical segregation from her colleagues, assignment of unequal tasks, heightened scrutiny of her work above the standards applied to non-Black Associates, and unwarranted criticisms. Ms. Menns was called “insubordinate” when she made comments and suggestions for which non-Black Associates were praised and rewarded, and was generally shunned and excluded by colleagues, staff and even her supervisors.
Ms. Menns is represented in the matter by David W. Sanford in the Washington, D.C. office of Sanford, Wittels & Heisler LLP. Mr. Sanford described Ms. Menns’ increasingly desperate attempts to obtain relief from the relentless discrimination she experienced at Howrey: “When her superiors in Brussels refused to help her, Ms. Menns turned to Howrey’s D.C. headquarters, sending a formal written complaint to the Firm’s top management, including the Chair and other members of Howrey’s Diversity Committee. The very next day, Howrey fired her.” Escorted from the building by several Howrey Partners, Ms. Menns was forced to leave behind a box of private and confidential personal documents, including financial records, immigration documents and health records.
As the Complaint documents, Howrey continued to engage in a series of retaliatory actions against Ms. Menns long after she had been fired. After rifling through Ms. Menns’ private records, Howrey retained confidential documents including Ms. Menns’ State-issued insurance papers, without which Ms. Menns spent months unable to obtain medical care. According to Deborah Marcuse, an attorney with Sanford Wittels & Heisler, the giant multinational law firm was not content with wrongfully terminating Ms. Menns; rather, “Howrey subsequently went out of its way to contact Ms. Menns’ previous employer, Fresh fields, and affected her reputation by implying she had wrongfully retained documents,” said Ms. Marcuse. “Howrey’s actions caused Fresh fields to withdraw its previous offer to serve as a reference for Ms. Menns, and have made it impossible for her to secure employment in the Brussels legal community, thereby threatening not only her livelihood but also her immigration status.”
The Complaint asserts that Howrey’s treatment of Ms. Menns violated the Washington, D.C. Human Rights Act’s race and national origin discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment clauses. Howrey’s intentional or reckless and negligent infliction of emotional distress is cited as well. According to Ms. Menns, “what disturbs me the most is that Howrey’s actions were intended to frighten and oppress me. This is a Firm which promotes itself as dedicated to diversity in principle and practice. And yet, the minute I engaged in protected action, the Firm set about blacklisting me in the Brussels legal community and beyond.”
Ms. Menns is seeking damages of not less than 30 million dollars, including an amount equal to accumulated lost wages and benefits, compensatory damages for the financial and emotional harm caused by Howrey, and punitive damages, along with attorney’s fees and experts’ fees. She has requested a jury trial.
SOURCE: PR Newswire (c) 2010