Stroock Forms Internal Investigations Unit to Help Companies and Organizations Respond to Suspected Sexual Misconduct
Former federal judge Shira Scheindlin and former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams head new group, comprising experienced litigation, enforcement and employment lawyers accustomed to navigating assertions of workplace harassment and impropriety
New York (January 8, 2018) – As the business, entertainment and political worlds continue to be rocked by revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct, Stroock has formed a special unit focused on helping organizations conduct internal investigations into alleged sexual misconduct in the workplace.
The group brings together experienced members of Stroock’s litigation, employment and government affairs practices and is being led by two prominent attorneys: former U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin and former New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams.
The new unit will assist clients in maintaining stronger programs and channels for reporting inappropriate sexual behavior, and for responding to allegations of harassment or abuse with a thorough investigation of suspected wrongdoing, regardless of whether the organization is subject to a civil or criminal proceeding. The group may counsel clients in response to litigation or enforcement actions stemming from alleged misconduct. Stroock lawyers will also help organizations fortify in-house training programs to prevent harassment and related misbehavior.
In launching the unit, Stroock has turned to two of its most respected senior practitioners.
Judge Scheindlin has long been a leader on gender equity in the legal profession. In 2017, she helped shepherd a groundbreaking New York State Bar Association study on Achieving Equality for Women Attorneys. During her 22 years on the bench in the Southern District of New York, Judge Scheindlin authored the landmark Zubulake opinion, a workplace gender discrimination ruling addressing the intersection of employment law and electronic discovery. She is also a former federal prosecutor.
Mr. Abrams served four terms as New York’s Attorney General and also served as President of the National Association of Attorneys General. He spearheaded numerous investigations of public companies, private firms and government agencies. A leader in ensuring diversity in the hiring of his senior staff and in protecting the rights of employees, he led enforcement actions and prosecutions of workplace-related misdeeds.
“This is an extremely sensitive time for employers – organizations shouldn’t run the risk of being blindsided by accusations of sexual impropriety, from outright harassment and forced physical contact to more subtle forms of intimidation or power plays based on sexual relationships, even when they are consensual,” said Stroock co-managing partner Alan Klinger. “Our new unit is available to help clients unravel suspected harassment and to arrive at a truthful, fact-based accounting of alleged wrongdoing. Employees, the media, investors and other stakeholders are making significant judgments based not only on what may have been alleged but how the organization steps up to ensure that nothing impedes an accurate picture of what occurred.”
Jeffrey Keitelman, Stroock’s other co-managing partner, commented on the selection of the unit’s co-leaders. “Judge Scheindlin and Bob Abrams are uniquely qualified to head internal investigations for companies and institutions trying to root out sexual harassment and misconduct,” he said.
“Judge Scheindlin has been a leader in developing the law related to electronic communications. Many of these cases turn on private email or texts or confidential communications with witnesses. Her understanding of these issues will help employers understand their liability and the need for decisive action,” Mr. Keitelman added. “And throughout his career, Bob Abrams has shown an unwavering commitment to integrity and willingness to follow wherever the facts take him, two qualities essential into a probe of possible sexual misconduct.”
Reflecting the importance of striking the right balance in following through on harassment claims within an organization, Judge Scheindlin, along with Stroock white collar litigator Joel Cohen, another member of the new unit, co-authored a commentary on the subject for The Guardian, published January 8. The piece is entitled: “After #MeToo, We Can’t Ditch Due Process”: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/08/metoo-due-process-televictions.
“At a time when improper interactions between men and women, particularly in the workplace, are part of a raucous national conversation, we must find a way to ensure that everyone – the public, private and public institutions, victims and alleged perpetrators – is given a fair shake through a swift and fair process,” the attorneys write.
“We must be mindful of transparency, recalling Justice Louis Brandeis’ iconic proclamation that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” they continue in the piece. “Of course, sunlight may also cause melanoma! How do we deal with these competing goals and ensure that a mere allegation, without compelling evidence, does not quickly morph into judgment?”
Other members of the new Stroock unit include:
- Joel Cohen, a former New York State and U.S. Justice Department prosecutor, who has conducted investigations on behalf of leading companies and non-profit entities. His long string of trial successes includes a number of high-profile public corruption cases. He is a prolific author of legal commentary and has for many years taught professional responsibility at two New York law schools. Mr. Cohen is also sensitive to the rights of the wrongfully accused – his most recent book, Broken Scales, was in part a close-up examination of improper criminal convictions.
- Howard Lavin, a partner in Stroock’s Employment Group, advises employers on all aspects of employment law, including discrimination and harassment claims, discipline and discharge issues. He has investigated complaints of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination based on other characteristics protected by applicable law. He regularly conducts comprehensive, customized training sessions for employees, including specialized workshops for senior executives. He reviews and often revises sexual harassment and anti-discrimination policies and reporting procedures.
- Michele Pahmer (special counsel in litigation) has litigated numerous cases involving allegations of discrimination and/or harassment under federal and state law, including through trial and defending judgments on appeal. She has also conducted numerous internal investigations within various industries, both in response to governmental inquiries as well as client-initiated.
- Elizabeth DiMichele (special counsel in employment) counsels HR professionals and in-house counsel on all aspects of federal, state and local employment laws. She is experienced in conducting investigations regarding workplace claims of harassment and discrimination, bullying and other suspected misconduct, and helps clients take appropriate corrective action, including implementation of preventive measures and formulation of best practices and policies. She also provides anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training to managers and staff.
“We’ve arrived at an important moment as a society, in which questionable behavior that was historically accepted or overlooked is now rightly being questioned and condemned,” Judge Scheindlin said.
“Even the most enlightened and progressive employers realize they are not immune to credible claims of improper sexual behavior within their ranks, and we’ll no doubt see more headline stories about this in the year to come,” she continued, noting that even the inspector general at the Department of Justice had recently admitted that DOJ had mishandled internal complaints of harassment. “Given our substantial investigative, enforcement and employment law credentials, Stroock’s new workplace investigations unit will assist organizations whose time may come to confront their own challenges in this charged area of the law.”
Stroock provides strategic transactional, regulatory and litigation advice to advance the business objectives of leading financial institutions, multinational corporations and entrepreneurial businesses in the U.S. and globally. With a rich history dating back 140 years, the firm has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, DC.