Note: On Wednesday, October 2, 2019, I sent the following Open Letter to Roger Meltzer and Jay Rains, Co-Chairs at DLA Piper, regarding the global law firm’s use of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault disputes.
Dear Mr. Meltzer and Mr. Rains,
I write to ask that you voluntarily release me from mandatory arbitration at DLA Piper. No female working at DLA Piper, whether she works as an administrative assistant, paralegal, departmental staff employee, associate lawyer, contract lawyer, of counsel lawyer, contract partner or equity partner should be forced to litigate claims involving sexual assault and battery or sexual harassment by male lawyers in secret. I experienced such horrific conduct at the hands of a senior male partner and deserve to openly litigate my claims. Female employees at DLA Piper deserve to know about what happened and have access to court filings during my litigation.
Joining DLA Piper
In September 2018, I joined DLA Piper as a junior partner to work in its Silicon Valley US Emerging Growth and Venture Capital practice. I was recruited by and work for Louis Lehot, the co-chair of this practice and the co-managing partner of the Silicon Valley office. Mr. Lehot is a top rainmaker, responsible for bringing in fees over 20 million annually. DLA Piper credits Mr. Lehot for securing its position as a top-ranked global leader in deal volume and technology M&A.
Less than two weeks into my new job working for Mr. Lehot, I suffered his first sexual assault. This happened in his hotel room on a business trip to Shanghai. I suffered the second assault several weeks later during a business trip to Brazil. By November 2018, I had endured two more sexual assaults, one in Chicago and one in Palo Alto. Having moved my two toddlers and husband that I support financially from Hong Kong to California for this job, I was petrified to believe what was happening to me, much less tell anyone. Mr. Lehot’s extreme temper and angry tirades that include shouting and clenching his fists are common knowledge at the office. Lawyers, staff and admin assistants do everything possible to avoid his wrath. My many attempts to fend off Mr. Lehot’s sexual advances failed. Mr. Lehot controls my work and my ability to advance. When I dared to tell him to stop, Mr. Lehot would refuse to speak to me for weeks, threaten to take me off of client deals, and accuse me of underperformance. Horrifically, I later learned that he suggested to numerous men at the Firm, and to certain clients, that he and I were involved in a consensual relationship. After months of Mr. Lehot’s relentless campaign and physical advances, I began experiencing panic attacks and stress-related medical conditions that landed me in the emergency room several times.
I went from working in Hong Kong as general counsel and the top female executive at a global tech company to being abused by Mr. Lehot. During my entire career I was known for my intellect, tenacity and confidence. In less than nine months at DLA Piper under Mr. Lehot, I became a shell of my former self — a woman who Mr. Lehot regularly told me could only get clients because I was attractive. For months I told Sang Kim, a co-managing partner of the Northern California offices that Mr. Lehot was terrorizing me. I even asked Mr. Kim if I would have his support if Mr. Lehot’s retaliation against me continued. After the panic attacks started, I again reached out to Mr. Kim. I believed, naively, that he would do the right thing and help me. In July, I broke down and told Mr. Kim about Mr. Lehot’s specific conduct. Shockingly, he responded by saying that it sounded like a “he said, she said” situation and that the best way to resolve it was for me to “talk it out” with Mr. Lehot and three other senior partners — all men. Just days later, Mr. Kim took me off one of the practice’s largest deals.
Through my lawyers, in early August I sent DLA Piper extensive details about what happened to me. Sadly, for two months DLA Piper has done nothing other than retaliate against me and try to shame me for speaking out. DLA Piper left me no option but to send this open letter and attach my charge filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). I can no longer be silent about what Mr. Lehot has done and the retaliation hurled at me for notifying DLA Piper of my protected claims.
Forced Arbitration Perpetuates Violence Against Female Employees
Physical violence against women is abhorrent. Physical violence against female employees in the workplace is abhorrent but preventable. Equally abhorrent is retaliating against female employees that dare speak out. In 2019, no female employee should experience what I have endured this past year. If I am terrified to speak out and have the title of equity partner, imagine what younger female associates or employees feel? If DLA Piper wants to label itself a global leader among law firms — there is only one decision:
Release me from forced arbitration and allow me to assert my civil claims for assault, battery, sexual harassment and retaliation in our transparent court system.
If you deny me access to court, it will be the women of DLA Piper who pay the consequences. Arbitration protects the people in power at the expense of those less powerful. Men control DLA Piper. Men control the critical management positions, lead the most lucrative practice groups and committees, and earn substantially more money than women, most especially at the equity partner level. Shielding men from accountability incentivizes and perpetuates sexual violence
and other unlawful harassment against female employees regardless of their position at DLA Piper.
At the age of 4 I immigrated to the US from Colombia. As a child, I helped my parents clean offices, including sinks and toilets, and distribute newspapers to make ends meet. I worked tirelessly to attend college and then law school. I speak five languages. I worked as a successful corporate lawyer for top global companies on Wall Street, and in Paris, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tanzania and India. I excelled and thrived, even in these male-dominated spaces. Only after joining DLA Piper’s Silicon Valley practice and being subjected to Mr. Lehot’s unlawful behavior, have I suffered such humiliation and harm simply because of my gender. I implore you to do the right thing and take a stand against a practice that everyone knows is wrong and allow me to litigate my claims in court.