A business development specialist at the multinational law firm Dentons has filed a state lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. The alleged events took place at the New York office of the firm, which has offices across the U.S., including in Miami.
According to the ABA Journal, the lawsuit claims that the employee "was repeatedly treated like nothing other than a sexual object" by her supervisor, who led the firm's venture technology group. He allegedly subjected her to vulgar language and sexual propositions, tried to draw her into sexual conversations when he phoned her at late hours, and touched her in sexual ways without her consent.
Also according to the suit, the supervisor generates a significant amount of business for the firm and is treated as a partner.
That may be why, when the woman complained to a higher supervisor and human resources, they allegedly told her not to discuss the allegations with anyone -- inside or outside the firm. In other words, she says, Dentons tried to silence her and prevent her from seeking legal counsel.
There may be another reason why the woman's complaints were ignored. According to the lawsuit, the international firm has just three women on its 34-member global board and only two on its 20-member global management team. (The firm points out that it does have five women on its 16-member U.S. board.)
The woman claims that the sexual harassment and the firm's response violate New York and federal anti-discrimination laws. She plans to file a charge with the EEOC and to file a federal lawsuit when cleared to do so by that agency.
In its defense, Dentons said in a statement that it is "deeply troubled" by these allegations and that it has a robust code of conduct meant to prevent discrimination and retaliation. It adds that it is committed to a fostering an inclusive and diverse culture and to creating a workplace free from discrimination and harassment. It contends that the firm has an "industry-leading commitment to diversity and inclusion."
The firm says it put the subject of the allegations on administrative leave "while we continued an ongoing investigation" and will take appropriate action when that investigation is concluded.
Sexual harassment, including unwanted sexual conversations and even inappropriate touching, can occur in any workplace. It is extremely frustrating to report this illegal behavior and feel like your employer isn't listening or urges you to remain silent.
If you have experienced sexual harassment or other illegality in the workplace, we hope you will consider stepping forward. Retaliation may be a real issue, however, so you should discuss your situation with an employment law attorney before taking any action.