Williams Mullen Faces Second Lawsuit, Sans Cucumber 

Former employee alleges age discrimination.

A former employee of Williams Mullen is suing the law firm, alleging retaliation and age discrimination in U.S. District Court. It's the second lawsuit filed against the firm in fewer than three months.

Ann Sayles, 63, charges in the lawsuit that she was held to different standards than younger employees, and that at one point her bosses informed co-workers not to interact with her.

The complaint comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed in early November, in which Hahn Nguyen Allgood, a former records manager at the firm, charges that she was sexually harassed by Williams Mullen partner Robert E. Eicher. Among other things, the Vietnamese native charges in the suit that Eicher made sexually inappropriate remarks. And in what the suit refers to as the “cucumber incident,” Allgood alleges Eicher pressed himself against her in an elevator before pulling a cucumber from his pants pocket.

In early December, James V. Meath, vice chairman at Williams Mullen, met with Allgood's lawyer in Washington in an attempt to settle the $950,000 lawsuit. No settlement has been reached, and Allgood seeks a jury trial. A motion to dismiss the lawsuit, filed by Williams Mullen, will be heard Feb. 1.

In the most recent lawsuit, filed Dec. 29 in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Sayles says she approached the law firm's director of administration in January 2007 to complain that she was being treated unfairly because of her age. She filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in November 2007, alleging age discrimination.

In January 2008, Sayles says she received a poor performance review by two attorneys for whom she worked before being transferred to another office. She was terminated in January 2009, purportedly for reviewing the lawyers' e-mails, a function that is described in the suit as part of her job. Sayles is asking $950,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Reached late last week, Meath denies that Sayles was treated unfairly. “It's an unfortunate situation,” he says. “Ms. Sayles did work for the law firm, and she was let go. And we believe we treated her fairly.”

Williams Mullen also has denied the allegations in Allgood's suit. In the meeting last month in Washington, Allgood's attorney, Ardra M. O'Neal, says Meath added insult to injury, poking fun at Allgood's enunciation of the car he drives.

“He made fun of the way Hanh pronounces ‘Jaguar',” says O'Neal, who once worked at Hunton and Williams. “He couched it in terms that they had a great rapport.”

Meath also attempted to settle the lawsuit, but O'Neal would accept no less than $300,000. “He suggested that there might be some follow-up dialogue,” says O'Neal, who is also representing Sayles. “There has not been.”


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