Stories of metaphorical bridge burnings are rare in the legal industry, not only because the industry is tight knit, but because those whose bridges get burned have the ability to get litigious, and are often eager to do so. Ready access to 450 attorneys was not enough to dissuade one attorney from sending out a mass email to clients and colleagues describing his firm taking part in “completely unacceptable” behavior as part of his resignation.
That’s exactly what top employment lawyer, Don Prophete, did when he resigned from Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart’s Kansas City, Missouri office in March. Prophete, who is now with Littler Mendelson’s Kansas City office, left Ogletree Deakins over what he perceived as harassment and discrimination against a female attorney that he had brought into the firm.
Upon his resignation, Prophete wrote and distributed a lengthy missive against the firm. Reuters obtained a copy of the letter, and said that Prophete railed against the “laissez-faire” attitude of the partners when it came to handling accusations of discrimination and harassment, but is light on the details of what actually occurred.
Reuters’ description of the events, based on the letter and an interview with Prophete, says that a female attorney was subjected to harassment by the managing officer of one of Ogletree Deakins’ 40 offices in the United States. When the female attorney notified Prophete of the harassment by email, the message was intercepted by the office manager, who began to exclude the female attorney from meetings and office decisions.
Prophete, who had brought the female attorney into the firm, complained about what he described as the “tyrannical” office manager to Ogletree Deakins’ partners, who he says immediately sided with the manager. Prophete’s letter said that he demanded an investigation into the manager by threatening to resign, and when no investigation was launched, he indeed resigned.
Prophete’s letter does not name any specific employees of Ogletree Deakins.
Kim Ebert, the managing shareholder for the entire Ogletree Deakins firm, issued a statement regarding Prophete’s letter. “[His] letter constitutes an attack on our firm by someone whose larger motives are incomprehensible to us. We will not comment on any of his specific claims or representations, as doing so would accomplish nothing except to cause further pain to people who deserve much better.”
Reuters reports that Ogletree Deakins has declined to comment on the specifics of Prophete’s employment contract and whether their agreement included nodisparagement provisions, and that no legal action has been taken as a result of either the email sent by Prophete or the discrimination he described.