Ex-Ropes Associate Set to Appeal Retaliation Suit Loss
It took a federal jury less than three hours last month to dismiss retaliation claims brought against Ropes & Gray by former associate John Ray III. But a recent court filing indicates that neither the quick verdict nor the earlier dismissal of his related discrimination claims have persuaded Ray to end his legal battle with the Am Law 100 firm.
In a notice of appeal filed in Boston federal court Dec. 20—a month after the seven-day trial in the case ended—Ray says that in addition to the November verdict, he aims to challenge various decisions and pretrial orders issued since the suit's filing in August 2011.
In his original complaint, Ray, who is black, claimed Ropes discriminated against him and ended his chances of becoming a partner at the firm when management informed him in December 2008 that he would not be promoted to a position as a ninth-year associate. According to court filings, he was allowed to stay on at Ropes for six months while searching for a new job. However, Ray alleged that his relations with partners soured and that the firm ultimately locked him out of its Boston headquarters after he demanded $8.5 million to settle his racial discrimination claims and filed a bias complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Beyond that, Ray claimed Ropes made it hard for him to find work elsewhere, in part by withholding promised letters of recommendation. He also accused the firm of improperly giving legal blog Above the Law a copy of the initial EEOC document denying his discrimination and retaliation claim that contained confidential personnel information. The EEOC later amended its finding to say the firm had retaliated against Ray.
In the run-up to the trial, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns granted summary judgment to Ropes on Ray’s claims of unlawful discrimination; breach of contract and covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and unfair competition by interfering with his opportunity to work at peer firms. Stearns' summary judgment ruling—which left only the retaliation claims against Ropes intact—is among the pretrial decisions Ray now seeks to reverse, according to the notice of appeal.
In ruling in Ropes' favor, the jury found that Ray did not file his claim with the EEOC in good faith and did not act in good faith when he wrote a letter to the dean of his alma mater, Harvard Law School, in which he accused Ropes of retaliation.
Ray's lawyer, Washington, D.C.–based Latif Doman, said Monday that his client is proceeding with an appeal based on a belief that the jury instructions incorrectly reversed the focus of the case: Instead of deciding whether Ropes retaliated against Ray, the jury was told to first determine if Ray acted in good faith, an element Doman said isn't always required to prove retaliation claims. "It focused on whether my client did something wrong, though the trial was supposed to be about what the defendant did to my client," Doman says. "They never answered the question of whether the firm retaliated."
Doman says it was also hard to prove Ray's case following Stearns' ruling to exclude his damages expert, which left the jury with little context for Ray's $8.5 million demand (as sibling publication The National Law Journal reported at the time, Stearn found the expert's report vague). Doman also took issue with a ruling that prohibited him from telling the jury that the firm had accused Ray of rape after he went home with an inebriated paralegal one night, an incident that Doman says could have helped build his case that the firm mistreated Ray.
A spokesman for Ropes said the firm had no comment.
After leaving Ropes in 2009, Ray began working for a temp agency. That, in turn, led him to a job at a law firm founded by Gaytri Kachroo, a former McCarter & English partner and the longtime lawyer for Bernard Madoff whistle-blower Harry Markopolos. In 2012 Ray opened his own firm in Boston, Ray Legal Consulting Group, which focuses on discrimination and civil rights cases, as well as mediation, general litigation and appellate work. Earlier in his career, Ray worked as an associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Jenner & Block and clerked at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Ropes isn't the only party defending itself against a suit filed by Ray. He also sued Kachroo Legal Services in small claims court for unpaid severance after being terminated in July 2012, filings in the Ropes case show; initiated two breach of contract cases in Massachusetts; and brought a lawsuit in New York federal court in September against two solo practitioners and others over an alleged scheme to "coerce" $166,000 from one of his clients. The Kachroo action and one of the contract cases settled, Ray told the court in a filing in the Ropes case, with the second contract suit being dismissed. The New York action remains active.