Big Law’s Seyfarth Shaw, along with a former partner of the firm, have been sued by Natalie Operstein, a linguistics professor at UCLA, for $24 million in compensatory damages and additional punitive damages. Operstein filed the suit over the firm’s investigation of her complaints of harassment and discrimination against her former employer, California State University at Fullerton (CSUF) (a university actor Kevin Costner has been known to support).
Victim Claims “Ulterior Intent” by Seyfarth
According to Operstein’s complaint, Seyfarth was required to be an “impartial tribunal” in her case. However, she alleged, that the law firm had an ulterior motive to create the findings of its investigation in favor of her employer. By doing so, she alleged that Seyfarth would be retained again by CSUF as well as other major employers across the state and other parts of the country.
She went on to say that by doing so, Seyfarth would gain an unfair business advantage over competitors and expand its market share, while profiting much beyond what CSUF would pay them as a fee.
CSUF Denied Tenure to Operstein
CSUF had denied tenure to Operstein and at the end of the 2016-16 academic year, they let go of her. She along with her husband Craig Ross (who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Seyfarth) sued CSU unsuccessfully, alleging that the university had denied her tenure because of a policy that improperly worked in favor of Hispanics. Operstein is currently employed as a linguistics professor at UCLA Extension, which provides continuing education.
Details of the Lawsuit
Operstein and Ross allege in their state court complaint filed in LA that Seyfarth and its partner at that time Colleen Regan were required to limit their investigation to the complaint, and not investigate Operstein or her conduct. However, despite this clear mandate, they went ahead and “selectively” reviewed evidence that favored the university.
Seyfarth along with Regan also made defamatory and false statements to Operstein and said that her accusations were without any basis; she was a physical threat to her colleagues and their families; and she was difficult to work with.
The lawsuit states that the firm failed to exercise such diligence, prudence, and skin as attorneys of ordinary capacity and skill specializing in employment law would usually possess and utilize in carrying out their mandated tasks.
The lawsuit has listed the following causes of action: legal malpractice, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, deceit and fraud, defamation, intentional inflicting of emotional distress, and loss of consortium. The plaintiffs are seeking $24 million in compensatory damages as well as punitive damages separately.
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