The US firm Paul, Weiss and the head of its London office have failed to persuade a judge to dismiss a £136 million claim brought against them by a former associate after they argued unsuccessfully that tweeting at RollOnFriday meant her case should be thrown out.
The firm and David Lakhdhir, a corporate partner and the co-head of Paul, Weiss' London office, applied to strike out the woman’s claim in the London Employment Tribunal.
The corporate lawyer at Paul, Weiss was sacked on 13 February 2018. In her claim, for £136 million (you read that right), she alleged that her dismissal was due to sex discrimination and amounted to harassment or victimisation. She said she also suffered religious discrimination because she received fewer days of paid holiday than Jewish staff.
But Paul, Weiss argued that she was actually sacked because she enrolled in a full-time PhD programme at Cambridge University without asking, against a background of allegedly poor performance at work. They said her behaviour in advance of the hearing amounted to "scandalous, unreasonable or vexatious conduct" which meant "that a fair trial is no longer possible".
While studying at Trinity College, the ex-associate became friends with Joseph Liptrap, a law PhD student at Downing College. After accompanying the ex-associate to a preliminary hearing on 9 October 2018, Liptrap began what Paul, Weiss and Lakhdhir described as a "massive and unrelenting campaign of internet and email harassment".
Liptrap's first tweet copied in the NY Law Journal. In it he called Brad S Karop, Paul Weiss' chairman, "a so-called 'leader' who doesn't seem to understand equality". The next day he tried to grab ROF's attention:
“Is there a term for law firms like @PaulWeiss LLP that swear by equality of treatment of women yet continue to face allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment. Smells like greenwashing to me. What do we think @legalcheek@RollonFridayWeb? #Equality #MeToo #ThursdayThoughts.”
“Yet @PaulWeissLLP hire outsiders [name inserted] who *allegedly* (infer sarcasm) – bully women into crying on the job and create a toxic work environment. This is insidious and repugnant; but I guess he brought the firm loads of work, so….#Equality #MeToo.”
Then, really smashing the hashtags:
“AIRHORN! UK ladies qualified to practice NY law: do *not* consider working for @PaulWeissLLP in London. They treat women like rubbish and the work environment is toxic #MeToo #Hypocrisy #sexism #uk #WomensRights #RetweetPlease."
Stephenson Harwood, acting for Paul Weiss and Lakhdhir, wrote to the ex-associate warning her that Liptrap was clearly posting the tweets with her approval, and demanding she stop him. Liptrap jumped on Twitter the same day:
“Just been informed that @PaulWeissLLP might try and sue me for defamation if I don’t stop tweeting about the firm. I suspect they might not understand the law of defamation. I will not stop telling the #truth about gender discrimination and harassment #MeToo #equality #law.”
He also detailed what allegedly happened to his friend:
“Poll: Is it #bullying if a 200cm tall man towers a #woman who was just wrongfully sacked, orders her to pack her belongings in carrier bags, marches her out of the building and leaves her shaking in the lobby? That’s what office manager [name inserted] of @PaulWeissLLP did this year.”
Liptrap directed more tweets at Human Rights Watch, where Lakhdhir sits on the board, and at Harvard, which he attempted to persuade to de-platform Lakhdhir and his wife, who were booked to speak at an event.
Liptrap defended his tweets in a letter to Stephenson Harwood. "It is my prerogative and indeed my duty as a male lawyer to speak out against gender discrimination, harassment, bullying and the like, no matter the personal cost", he wrote. "I refuse to stay quiet". He said the claimant had no input into his campaign, arguing, "I am fully capable of drafting tweets, without instruction or suggestion".
He certainly made use of the spare time a student enjoys. Liptrap also contacted over 30 staff at Human Rights Watch suggesting Lakhdhir was being accused of sex discrimination and harassment. He emailed every single Paul, Weiss partner. Then on 14 December 2018 he emailed everyone at Stephenson Harwood demanding they apologise for accusing him of defamation, stop suggesting he was tweeting on the claimant’s behalf, and remove his tweets from their discovery bundle. “If my requests are not met reasonably soon", he wrote, "the circumstances are going to grow far, far worse for anyone in your firm that had any part to play in this wretched string of events, the nature of which is bound to quickly become very public.”
(clockwise from top left) Liptrap, the claimant, The Spirit of Twitter, Lakhdhir.
Meanwhile, the former associate, who is now the Director of Studies in Law at Newnham College, sent an email to Karop and 625 other Paul Weiss staff with the subject heading, “Sex Discrimination and Harassment at Paul, Weiss”. She and Liptrap also reported two solicitors at Stephenson Harwood to the SRA. Liptrap's campaign stopped when Paul, Weiss and Lakhdhir applied to strike out the claims against them on 17 December 2018.
At the application hearing in March, Judge H Clark agreed there had "obviously been information sharing" between Liptrap and the claimant "and some co-ordination as to tactics". She said the publicity which Liptrap attempted to generate "does not appear to have materialised", but that he could still have caused reputational damage to his targets as well as distress. However, she said, Liptrap's conduct could not be attributed to the claimant, and as long as Liptrap kept his trap shut from now on, a fair hearing remained possible.
Liptrap told RollOnFriday, "The respondents were obviously hoping that a preliminary hearing and the threat of a strike out would make the allegations go away. This has ultimately been their principal problem from the beginning. They want to bully, threaten and silence any person, connected to the litigation or not, who confronts them about what they (allegedly) did".
Paul, Weiss and the claimant did not respond to requests for comment.