A legal secretary’s civil complaint against her former employer that includes allegations that associates treat legal staffers like servants might not raise any eyebrows – at least among legal staffers – but one alleging attorneys and management used racial slurs and the workplace is a hotbed of sexual scandal certainly will.

In September 2010, legal secretary Jaki Nelson filed suit in the County of Los Angeles Superior Court against Jones Day, alleging she is the victim of racial discrimination and retaliation, after she was laid off with about 30 other employees in June 2010, during a staff reduction. An African-American woman and a Jones Day employee for almost 18 years, she alleges the staff reduction was merely a pretext to rid the firm of minorities and problematic individuals who complained about the work environment and unfair treatment.

It’s not the standard allegations of discrimination, retaliation and emotional distress that are making national headlines. It’s the insider allegations of extremely inappropriate and offensive conduct by the firm’s attorneys and supervisors that make the complaint a shocker.

What likely won’t shock my legal staff readers are Nelson’s allegations regarding a typical work day for her, although she says in her case it was due to her race and her complaints about unfair treatment, including:

  • Attorneys made her work on their personal correspondence.
  • She was often asked fill in a month’s work on incomplete time sheets the day they were due.
  • She was paired with new associates who did not generate much clerical work, which did not allow her to improve her skills.
  • Supervising attorneys slammed doors in her face and papers on her desk, and engaged in passive-aggressive behavior.
  • Other employees were not chastised when they used the Internet for personal reasons during the day, came in late, or took long lunches.

If even a few of Nelson’s allegations regarding the firm’s treatment of her and other minority employees are true, she was a victim in an intolerable work environment. Based on her own allegations in the complaint, it looks like her counsel anticipates the defendants will allege that Nelson was a problem employee. Since the initial report of the lawsuit, Above the Law has published a supplemental post about the other side of the story, i.e. that Nelson had personal issues at work, and that some of the attorneys mentioned in the complaint would not likely have engaged in the alleged behavior.

But I know some of you will read the allegations regarding the day-to-day experience of working with difficult attorneys, and completely identify with the same kind of childish and/or unacceptable behaviors Nelson describes – except in your own experience, it had, or has, nothing to do with race.

PDF of Nelson’s Complaint: http://blog.ebosswatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Nelson-v-Jones-Day.pdf

Sources: eBossWatch; Above the Law

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