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Associate Files Discrimination and Defamation Lawsuit Against Law Firm
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In a recent legal development, a former associate at the prominent law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr has filed a pro se lawsuit, alleging that the firm discriminated against him due to his Cameroonian origin and defamed him in two performance evaluations. Jean E. Dassie, who previously worked in the intellectual property group, claims to have experienced emotional distress stemming from these evaluations and interactions with a fellow counsel who berated and humiliated him. Dassie’s lawsuit includes various causes of action such as retaliation, tortious interference with contract, and fraudulent misrepresentation. This lawsuit was filed on October 19 in a New York state court and has already garnered significant attention from various news outlets, including Reuters, Law360, and Above the Law.

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Incident Leading to Discrimination Allegations

  
What
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Dassie’s discrimination allegations stem from an incident involving WilmerHale counsel, Anh-Khoa Tran, and Dassie’s work on PowerPoint slides. While preparing for trial with Tran and others, Dassie made certain modifications to the slides and left a note for the litigation-support vendor to implement additional changes. However, a difference he made for Tran inadvertently reverted to the original after the vendor’s involvement. Tran, upon discovering his change was missing, confronted Dassie and instructed him to consult the litigation-support vendor for all future changes. Dassie expressed his willingness to consider this suggestion but pointed out that there would be instances where it might not be practical. This exchange escalated, with Tran publicly chastising Dassie in a crowded room, and Dassie retorted with a remark aimed at de-escalating the situation.

Tran, dissatisfied with Dassie’s response, insisted on a private meeting outside, during which he raised his voice and berated Dassie. Dassie attempted to explain the constraints of trial deadlines but ultimately stated that he would use his judgment as suggested by Tran. Despite this resolution, Tran reported the incident to the firm.

The lawsuit also describes two other alleged incidents involving Tran, including derogatory comments about Dassie’s views on the judicial system and belittlement when requesting a ride back to the hotel. These events, according to Dassie, contributed to his emotional distress.

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Performance Evaluations and Subsequent Termination

Dassie’s year-end evaluation in 2022, which included praise, was marred by the incident with Tran and Dassie’s complaint about not receiving substantive work in another matter. Consequently, he was placed on an interim review plan. During this evaluation, Dassie was informed that his substantive legal skills were not in question, but he needed to work on his “soft” skills.



In the midyear evaluation in 2023, the firm’s feedback shifted to criticize Dassie’s substantive work. Although he received above-average scores, the review was used as a pretext to terminate his employment, as claimed in the lawsuit.

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Additional Allegations of Emotional Distress

The lawsuit extends to include several other incidents that Dassie alleges caused him emotional distress:

  • A retired partner wrongly accused Dassie of sending documents with tracked edits to a pro bono client when, in reality, he had sent clean documents to the client but records with modifications to the partner and another senior associate. The partner allegedly raised her voice and belittled Dassie, stating that he lacked attention to detail and the necessary qualities to succeed at WilmerHale.
  • In a separate incident, while working on telecommunications litigation, Dassie had a strategy disagreement with a senior associate regarding a trial exhibit list. Despite holding a meritorious position, he was reprimanded and excluded from team meetings for the exhibit list.
  • Dassie claims he was socially ostracized by partners involved in the telecommunications matter after disclosing his planned vacation following the trial. He was excluded from communications and had limited access to court observation compared to others.
  • A partner criticized Dassie’s suggested line of questioning for preparing a witness, calling it “stupid.”

WilmerHale and Anh-Khoa Tran have yet to respond to the ABA Journal’s request for comment regarding these allegations.

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