A female partner at DLA Piper has accused Louis Lehot, the co-managing partner of the firm's Silicon Valley office, of sexually assaulting her four times.
Vanina Guerrero made the explosive claims in an open letter published this week. She immigrated to the US from Colombia when she was four and, she said, worked her way up from cleaning office loos to becoming a corporate lawyer fluent in five languages.
But it was only after joining DLA Piper’s Silicon Valley practice in September 2018 as a junior partner that she was "subjected to Mr. Lehot’s unlawful behavior" and "suffered such humiliation and harm simply because of my gender", she said.
Within two weeks of arriving at the firm Guerrero was sexually assaulted by Lehot in a hotel room in Shanghai, she said. In the next two months he also sexually assaulted her during a business trip to Brazil, in Chicago and in Palo Alto, she claimed.
Guerrero declares guerre.
"My many attempts to fend off Mr. Lehot’s sexual advances failed", she said, alleging that when she "dared to tell him to stop" he took revenge at work by refusing to speak to her for weeks, threatening to remove her from deals and accusing her of underperformance.
Guerrero also said Lehot was prone to angry tirades that included shouting and clenching his fists. She claimed his "extreme temper" was common knowledge in the office and that "Lawyers, staff and admin assistants do everything possible to avoid his wrath".
The partner, who is still with the firm, said she was "petrified to believe what was happening", having moved with her husband and toddlers from Hong Kong to California to take the job as the family's main breadwinner.
"Horrifically", she said, she discovered that Lehot was telling men in the firm and some clients that the pair were in a consensual relationship. "I began experiencing panic attacks and stress-related medical conditions that landed me in the emergency room several times", she said.
Guerrero said she became a shell of her former self, which wasn't helped by Lehot regularly telling her she could only get clients because she was attractive.
According to Guerrero, when she complained to Sang Kim, the Silicon Valley office's other Managing Partner, he brushed it off as a 'he said, she said' situation and told her to "talk it out" with Lehot and three other male partners,. Then took her off one of the practice's largest deals.
Her letter was addressed to Roger Meltzer and Jay Rains, the Co-Chairs at DLA Piper, and can be seen as an attempt to strongarm them into freeing her from the mandatory arbitration which the firm requires complainants to undertake before they can go to court.
Accusing the firm of soft-pedaling her grievance, she said that for two months "DLA Piper has done nothing other than retaliate against me and try to shame me for speaking out"*. The firm, she said, "left me no option but to send this open letter".
Jeanne Christensen, Guerrero's lawyer, told RollOnFriday that DLA Piper "should lead by example and do what is right for its female employees. No longer should female employees be silenced to protect its male centric leadership.”
Opting against an open letter response, DLA Piper told RollOnFriday in a statement that it was aware of the allegations by one of its partners and that it took them seriously. "As soon as we were notified of the allegations, we took appropriate steps to investigate them", it said, adding that it was continuing to seek Guerrero's "cooperation in its investigation".
*When it comes to criticising complainants, DLA Piper is still not in the same league as Jones Day.