A former worker at Williams Mullen is suing the law firm, charging sexual harassment and discrimination in U.S District Court. The lawsuit, filed in Norfolk on Nov. 4, asks for $950,000 in punitive damages plus legal fees.
In the federal court filing, Vietnam native Hanh Nguyen Allgood, who was records manager at Williams Mullen from 1989 to March 2007, alleges that one of the firm's partners, Robert E. Eicher, once asked her if her vagina was horizontal or vertical. The suit also alleges that he “often walked around the firm dressed as a doctor showing his gloves and asking female staff if they wanted to be ‘examined.'”
The suit further alleges that Eicher had several sexual relationships with employees and publicly described his sexual encounters with them. The suit describes what's referred to as the “cucumber incident,” in which Eicher allegedly pressed suggestively against various women at the firm before extracting a cucumber from his pants pocket. Allgood says Eicher hugged her in an elevator and pressed the cucumber against her thigh in a sexually suggestive manner. Eicher didn't return Style's calls by press time.
James V. Meath, vice chairman at Williams Mullen, said on Monday he was aware of the lawsuit but had yet to review it. “I've heard about it, but I haven't seen it,” he said. “There's no merit to this.”
Allgood's suit alleges that another partner, Douglas Nabhan, made racially derogatory comments, insinuating that Allgood prepared her meals with dogs and cats and referring to Allgood's then-husband, who is Hispanic, as a “wetback.” Nabhan, reached Monday, said he was unaware of the lawsuit. After several complaints, including ones made directly to Thomas R. Frantz, head of the firm's Virginia Beach office, no disciplinary action was taken, according to Allgood. All of the alleged sexual harassment incidents occurred at the firm's Richmond offices, the suit says.
Frantz promised Allgood that “things would get better,” according to the filing, but the lawsuit alleges that Allgood's supervisors “treated Allgood worse than ever.”
The suit comes on the heels of discrimination claims at Williams Mullen. Late last year, six former employees and one employee still on the job filed discrimination claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging a hostile work environment and unequal terms and conditions of employment. All charges were dismissed.