A former Paul, Weiss lawyer who is suing the firm and its London Managing Partner for £136 million for harassment, sex discrimination and bullying has failed to convince the Employment Appeal Tribunal to let her call witnesses who alleged similar mistreatment.

Anna Christie was a corporate associate in the US firm's London office until she was sacked in February 2018, for what she alleges was retaliation for raising grievances. Two other women in the London office also made complaints about the firm. Corporate associate Sonia Larsen is on maternity leave, while Saiqa Panday left the firm in December.

Christie told the EAT that she had expected both women to testify at her upcoming hearing to a toxic culture for women at the five-partner London office, and had even secured Larsen's agreement to appear as a witness.

But after Christie submitted her application to the court for Witness Orders, Larsen and Panday both settled their claims, which included signing Non-Disclosure Agreements. When Christie contacted Larsen to check she was still happy to testify, Larsen replied that she could not. "I'm unfortunately no longer at liberty to make any statement or discuss my case", she wrote. "I'm sorry". Panday's job title on LinkedIn is now listed as "NDA attorney at Paul, Weiss".

zip

Christie's appeal sought to persuade Judge Eady QC to overturn the Employment Tribunal's decision not to allow her to make a Witness Order compelling Larsen to testify. It had ruled that doing so might force Larsen to break the NDA's confidentiality requirements and risk making her the subject of satellite litigation.

Representing herself with her father alongside her, Christie described how Paul, Weiss was intending to call seven male witnesses to testify that its London office was not a hostile working environment for women, whereas Christie's two female witnesses had been gagged by its use of the controversial instrument.

Their plan was to "attack the credibility of the claimant in a vacuum", she said, and if her appeal was not allowed, "the right to buy a witnesses' silence in a nefarious transaction" will "act as an incentive" to "pay off witnesses without fear of consequences". The firm "continue to use their power and revenue of $1.5 billion to prejudice [my] claim", she said.

Acting for Paul Weiss, Paul Epstein QC said that silencing victims with NDAs "is not the issue" and that Christie's account was "hotly contested" by the firm. Larsen and Panday were not "made to sign" NDAs, he said, and contrary to Christie's allegations there was "no witness intimidation". Christie was dismissed for poor performance, said Epstein, and for "unacceptable and egregious misconduct" by starting a PhD at Cambridge University which took her away from work. The US firm, said Epstein, "requires all hours availability".

Judge Eady QC ruled that the tribunal was “obviously troubled” by Paul, Weiss's use of NDAs, but said that "the ET was not concerned with the issue of NDAs as a whole”. Their existence was one of several factors considered, and “the ET did nothing but include a permissible step in its decision”, she said.

Tip Off ROF

Comments

Lydia 24 May 19 09:46

Not very fair to silence the other female witnesses with NDAs nor to say doing a PhD is gross misconduct. Instead the PhD could be a very good thing. I was in touch with a lawyer last week who is doing a PhD whilst fully practising. Bettr than if she were spending her weekends watching sport, drinking or taking drugs surely?

NDAs 24 May 19 09:55

"Larsen and Panday were not "made to sign" NDAs, he said"... and yet they did sign them. If Paul COMMA Weiss are so clean then I can't for the life of me understand why they felt the need for NDAs with other women. I've drafted lots of settlements which include confidentiality agreements, usually to protect commercial interests, but they all allow disclosure to relevant people (advisers and such) AND to allow disclosure under a Court order. But the EAT wasn't being asked to open another person's NDA. The EAT was being asked to let someone speak to the evidence in this case without being punished.... unless the NDA was all about how badly Paul COMMA Weiss behaved? Finally, it seems very odd that the firm (christ, that comma) can bring witnesses to show how overall they are wonderful. That's not the point, a firm could be angelic to 99% of its staff but still mistreat 1% (that's the whole point of victimisation). I wonder if adverse inferences should be drawn by the fact that wiling witnesses have been gagged?

NDAs 24 May 19 10:04

sorry should have said: all my confidentiality agreements allow disclosure under a court order or in any live court proceedings.

Anonymous 24 May 19 10:55

The NDAs suggest something nefarious is going on, but the Courts/EAT cannot construe them as implying guilt (otherwise every settlement agreement would imply guilt on the part of the party settling).  I suppose most people have a price.  It's unfortunate for Christie that the witnesses signed NDAs - but the witnesses did so willingly (presumably in exchange for something), so there isn't much she can now do about it.

Anonymous 24 May 19 13:10

"The US firm, said Epstein, "requires all hours availability"."  Which is, itself, de facto unreasonable. (I apologise for the correct use of commas in this post).

Gobblepig 25 May 19 08:36

Can she not witness summons them, or is that not available in EAT proceedings? After all, she presumably knows what their evidence was going to be before they signed NDAs, and one cannot rely on an NDA to avoid a court order-backed witness summons. 

Gobblepig 26 May 19 09:14

Who are the two weirdos who down-voted my perfectly sensible comment? Are your names Paul and Weiss by any chance?

Karen 26 May 19 16:37

Wow, Larsen and Panday really stabbed her in the back. I refused to sign a NDA as part of a settlement in a similar situation. I couldn't handle the stress of an ET but I still wanted to support my stronger colleague who could.

Anonymous 27 May 19 07:21

As long as the ones signing the NDAs don't come forward in 20 years and say they were forced to sign them and that they shouldn't count.

Eh? 27 May 19 20:02

Lydia: “doing a PhD shouldn’t be gross misconduct” - grant me strength.  P, W want someone without a life outside work.  They certainly don’t want someone buggering off to do a PhD at Cambridge if it’s going to take their eye off the 24 hours per day job for P,W.  I know you’ve worked for yourself for years, but I don’t think there’s a firm in the city which would go, oh, you’re doing a PhD, what a lovely surprise, glad you didn’t tell us, how much time off will you need, no, it really doesn’t matter you’re no longer able to devote your full time to doing the job we paid you for.  And I’m willing to bet the an amount equivalent to the money paid to the two other witnesses that either the relationship had previously broken down (or the firm and AC would have talked about her PhD plans before it came to this) or there’s a hell of a lot more to this. The SRA’s Warning Notice makes clear NDAs should not prevent individuals from giving evidence in accordance with a court order.  A witness order should therefore not be a breach of the NDA and this story doesn’t make sense. So is there something weird about the NDA that prevents this?  Surely no one is thick enough to draft one that’s in breach of the SRA warning notice now?

Anonymous 30 May 19 23:09

No idea of the merits of the claim, but unless there is something which hasn't been reported, major blunder by the EAT to allow Paul, White to allow NDAs to be used in this way.