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Shore v. Groom Law Group

January 27, 2005; as amended March 14, 2005

LINDA K. SHORE, APPELLANT
v.
GROOM LAW GROUP, ET AL., APPELLEES



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-5260-00, CA-5387-01). (Hon. Stephanie Duncan-Peters, First Trial Judge). (Hon. Susan R. Winfield, Second Trial Judge).

Before Terry and Farrell, Associate Judges, and Ferren, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Argued January 8, 2003

Appellant Linda Shore was a partner in a law firm, Groom Law Group, Chartered ("Groom" or "the firm"), until she was asked to resign after making comments to a client's attorney that cast the firm in a negative light. After her departure, appellant sought arbitration of several grievances against the firm, alleging gender discrimination, retaliation for engaging in protected activity, breach of contract, and a variety of common law torts. Under her employment agreement with the firm, appellant was required to arbitrate her contract grievance, but in addition she voluntarily chose to submit her discrimination and common law claims to the same arbitration panel.*fn1 After an extensive hearing, the arbitration panel found that Groom had discriminated against appellant, but only in the manner and terms of her release from the firm. As a result, appellant's award was limited to one month's back pay, certain deferred compensation, and arbitration costs, excluding attorney's fees.

Before this court appellant seeks to litigate further many of the issues that were resolved against her by the arbitration panel and the trial court; at the same time, she raises some new claims. Because our review of arbitration decisions is very limited, and because we find no reason to disturb the rulings of the trial court or the arbitration panel on any of these issues, we uphold the original arbitration award and deny appellant any additional relief.

I.

A. Factual Background

Appellant was originally hired as an associate by Groom in 1988*fn2 and became a partner five years later. Soon thereafter, however, some senior members of the firm began to be concerned about appellant's work performance. There were allegations that she missed deadlines, treated staff and clients poorly, did not relate well to some clients, and threatened to leave the firm and take business with her. Robert Gallagher, the firm's executive principal, became aware that clients had requested that appellant be taken off certain matters because her conduct at times was described as "out of control" and included the use of profane language during conference calls. On another occasion, one of Groom's largest clients began looking for alternative legal services because the client was unhappy with appellant's lack of responsiveness to its needs.

Questions were also raised about appellant's behavior within the firm. She reportedly initiated several heated exchanges with members of the firm's information services department that were described as disrespectful and "totally baseless." From 1996 through 1998, Groom conducted an internal survey of its partners to assess work compatibility; appellant received scores consistently below the firm average.

In the fall of 1997, Groom learned that appellant was looking for another job so that she could leave what she described as an "unfriendly environment for female attorneys." At that time Groom was working on a large project for Prudential Insurance Company, a client with which appellant had worked before. Because of the possibility that appellant might be leaving in the midst of that project, she was not assigned to work on it. When Prudential attorney Maureen Darmanin spoke with appellant shortly thereafter, appellant mentioned that she was considering leaving the firm because it had difficulty accepting women in leadership roles.

After learning of this conversation, members of the firm's executive committee met to discuss how appellant's conduct should be addressed. Because of her recent comments to clients and her apparent dissatisfaction with the firm, the executive committee recommended that appellant be terminated. Initially, she did not choose to leave the firm voluntarily. However, after a special meeting of the principals on March 4, 1998, it was mutually agreed that appellant would resign from the firm, effective March 31, 1998.*fn3

Appellant's version of the relevant facts reflected her belief that the firm discriminated against women, and her search for employment elsewhere was directly related to Groom's failure to resolve this problem. She also downplayed the comments that she had made to Ms. Darmanin at Prudential, taking the position that, whatever their content, the conversation was within the scope of "protected activities" under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Appellant also noted that even though she was not assigned to work on the larger ongoing project, she was able to continue working with Prudential on other matters. She further observed that during the special principals meeting at which her resignation was negotiated, the reason given for her release related to her communication to Prudential about her displeasure with the firm and its attitude toward women, not her allegedly unsatisfactory work performance or conduct within the firm.

Less than a month after her departure from Groom, appellant was offered a position as a special partner with the firm of Hopkins and Sutter. In September 1998, however, appellant resigned from Hopkins and Sutter because she was in the later stages of pregnancy and was unable to access the firm's computer system from her home, where her doctors had advised her to remain until her baby was born. Shortly thereafter, appellant joined the firm of ...


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