An extraordinary fall-out between two US law firm partners who were classmates at Harvard has escalated into duelling claims of misogyny, drunkenness and public masturbation.
Last year John Pierce, a former Latham & Watkins partner who left Quinn Emmanuel in 2017 to found Pierce Bainbridge, invited Don Lewis, an ex-Skadden lawyer, to join him as a partner.
Four months after Lewis signed up, Pierce emailed partners to inform them that Lewis had been accused of sexual assault by a female employee, and was being placed on leave while the firm investigated.
No secrets between partners.
The alleged victim claimed that Lewis grabbed her breasts after she saw him pleasuring himself in a glass-walled office. Pierce subsequently dismissed Lewis from the firm for breaching the terms of his suspension by naming his accuser in an email to partners.
Lewis denied the allegations and responded with a lawsuit accusing Pierce of financial wrongdoing, defamation and misogyny.
Lewis (L) and Pierce (R) against a backdrop of Pierce Bainbridge's striking website (RollOnFriday only added the partners in their tanks - the paratroopers are all its own).
Internal communications included in Lewis’ claim paint Pierce Bainbridge's partnership as unusually dysfunctional even for a law firm. Messages purported to have been sent by Pierce show him denigrating his ex-assistant, ‘Lauren’, as "unstable" and a "psycho female", while another states, "Fucking chicks. Whackjobs." Texts allegedly sent by Lauren have been used to support Lewis’ contention that Pierce had a substance abuse issue.
As part of his claim, Lewis has also accused Pierce of ignoring the firm’s allegedly perilous financial state (Pierce maintains that it is in rude health). One message he claims to have sent Pierce before the public masturbation issue warned, "Shit is getting shaky, people are asking questions and if we fuck up the payroll which we are getting perilously close to doing it's over...We come short I'm fucked. Your [sic] fucked. Everyone is fucked".
Bold manner with the boss for a four month newbie.
The exhibits attached to Lewis' claim even include messages from Pierce's ex-wife in which she complained that Pierce had fallen behind on his alimony payments of $21,000 a month, and asked Lewis and other partners to handle it.
Pierce has reacted aggressively. On LinkedIn he called Lewis a "credibly accused sex predator" who "contributed effectively nothing to the firm". In another post Pierce implied that Lewis, who is seeking a seven figure sum in compensation, was a terrorist. "We will NOT negotiate with terrorists, we will NOT be extorted and we are NEVER stopping", he declared.
Pierce, who enjoys military metaphors, also appears to have taken aim at six partners who fled the firm as the scandal exploded, commenting that “not everyone is cut out for SEAL training or Ranger School". His firm's “people”, he said, "must have not only thick skin, but skin made of kevlar combined with titanium at times”.
In a statement Pierce said, "We will not be held up by a disgruntled former employee looking for a payout. It seems the defendant has concocted salacious accusations to retaliate for the firm firing him for his own wrongdoing. The firm stands ready to defend its reputation and reveal Mr. Lewis’s actions for what they are - outright extortion.”
Lewis told RollOnFriday, “Without a single conversation, Pierce kicked me out of the firm, locked me out of my accounts and banned everyone from speaking with me forever. He did it by e-mail. Then he defamed me in unspeakable ways. My former partners have said terrible things about him, but they fell in line, enabled him and are complicit in all his nonsense. He has the paychecks.”