US firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison has failed to strike out an employment tribuanl claim brought by a former corporate lawyer in its London office, after a tribunal found her not responsible for a friend’s Twitter campaign against it.
Employment Judge Clark in London said the law firm described Anna Louise Christie’s claims, “valued by her at £136m”, as “grossly inflated”.
Ms Christie has made a number of claims arising out of the termination of her employment as a corporate lawyer in February 2018.
The firm told the tribunal it was because of “her enrolment in a full-time PhD programme” at Cambridge University without obtaining its permission, against a background of “allegedly poor performance”.
Judge Clark went on: “The claimant suggests that her dismissal was an act of direct sex discrimination or alternatively, that it was automatically unfair because she made a protected disclosure (in a written communication dated 5 February 2018).
“The claimant further claims that her dismissal amounted to harassment or victimisation.
“There are also claims of religious discrimination on the basis that the claimant received fewer days’ holiday pay compared to employees of the Jewish faith and for breach of contract relating to her pay and benefits during the notice period.”
The judge said that, according to the law firm, another Cambridge PhD candidate, Joseph Liptrap, accompanied Ms Christie to a tribunal hearing in October 2018, following which he embarked on what the law firm described as a “massive and unrelenting campaign of internet and email harassment”, frequently citing #metoo.
Paul Weiss argued that the strike-out application was a response to this campaign by Mr Liptrap and Ms Christie “working in concert”, and his actions could be attributed to her.
“Such behaviour, it is said, amounts to scandalous, unreasonable or vexatious conduct of the proceedings on her part… and that a fair trial is no longer possible.”
Ms Christie emailed the chairman of Paul Weiss in December 2018 and copied in 625 others at the law firm with the subject heading ‘Sex Discrimination and Harassment at Paul, Weiss’, attaching a confidential email which she received from the firm in the course of the tribunal disclosure process.
Paul Weiss responded later in the month by applying to strike out her claims. Its solicitors, Stephenson Harwood, wrote to Mr Liptrap on the same day warning him against “any further dissemination” of employment tribunal documents.
“It put him on notice of the confidential nature of the documents he claimed to have and the fact that any allegations he made about the claimant’s circumstances would not be protected by the litigation process.”
Judge Clark said Paul Weiss confirmed that Mr Liptrap’s tweets and other public correspondence about the firm ceased from this point.
He said the law firm argued that Ms Christie supplied Mr Liptrap with documents in the case, there was “similarity” in the content of their communications, their complaints about Stephenson Harwood to the Solicitors Regulation Authority were co-ordinated, and Mr Liptrap had “desisted from his campaign of harassment” when the strike-out application was made.
Paul Weiss said the campaign of online harassment “was designed to put pressure on them to settle the claimant’s grossly inflated claim”.
“The implication of the use of the hashtag MeToo invites the inference that sexual assault was involved. A fair trial is no longer possible because of the effect on the named individuals and the firm itself of this intentional campaign to discredit them.”
Judge Clark said there was “evidence from which the tribunal could infer” that the claimant was involved in or encouraging Mr Liptrap’s communications.
“That they are colleagues and friends is not in dispute. Although Mr Liptrap is not representing the claimant, he is conversant with the contents of the pleadings and has seen some of the documents, if not all, including a communication received by the claimant from one of the first respondents’ clients.”
Judge Clark said the fact Ms Christie and Mr Liptrap complained to the SRA “within a short period of time” could be “no coincidence”, and “they must have liaised in this regard”. The judge also accepted there were similarities in their correspondence.
However, Ms Christie had shown “unequivocal opposition” to Mr Liptrap’s suggestion that the wife of the second respondent, Paul Weiss partner David Lakhdir, should be “no platformed” at Harvard University “apparently by reason of her association with her husband”.
Judge Clark said: “In my judgment, the co-ordination of their disputes was not such as to enable the actions of one to be attributed to the other.
“The claimant can be criticised for failing to take any steps to distance herself from Mr Liptrap’s communications after 22 October 2018 [when Stephenson Harwood drew her attention to them], but her failure to do so is insufficient, in my judgment, to render her liable for his actions after that.”
He was satisfied that the manner of Mr Liptrap’s social media campaign “was not something which was encouraged or supported by the claimant”, a finding reinforced by the fact that she did not act in a similar manner before he became involved.
“As a result, I am not satisfied that Mr Liptrap’s tweets and email communications can be attributed to the claimant or regarded as her conduct of these proceedings.”
Judge Clark said he accepted that the law firm’s witnesses had been “placed under additional pressure by the nature and scale of Mr Liptrap’s communications” but there was no evidence that their ability to prepare their cases, give instructions to their lawyers or evidence to the tribunal had been “materially affected or restricted”.
He concluded: “As such, assuming there is no resumption of potentially defamatory tweets and emails, I am satisfied that a fair hearing remains possible and that striking out the claimant’s claim is not justified.”
Paul Weiss has not responded to a request for comment.