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A lawsuit has accused Reed Smith of wrongly firing a lawyer after a “discriminatory chain of perceptions and events” stemming from a concussion that the lawyer received while on vacation.
The lawsuit by former of counsel Aaron Chase, filed Wednesday in the Southern District of New York, alleges unlawful retaliation and disability discrimination by Reed Smith.
Chase says he received the concussion when he hit his head hard on the frame of a vehicle that he was entering while on vacation in September 2019. He returned to work the same month and informed his direct supervisor, partner Jennifer Achilles, about the injury soon afterward.
Chase explained “how concussions, unlike purely physical injuries, can make the afflicted person feel disconnected from his sense of self and impair one’s thinking,” the suit says.
Several days later, Achilles called Chase into her office to discuss “an error made on one of” his cases and also criticized him for other supposed past performance issues, the suit says. Those issues had not been discussed with Chase before, the suit says.
When Chase said he would not have made the error absent the concussion, Achilles allegedly responded, “It’s unfortunate that the thing that broke the camel’s back happened while you are suffering from a concussion, but you did basically the same thing a few months ago, so I don’t think it was the result of the concussion.”
Chase began his medical leave Oct. 24, 2019, after he was unable to remain in the office because of the severity of his symptoms. He was experiencing fogginess, trouble concentrating, headaches and sensitivity to light, the suit says.
When Chase returned Feb. 27, Achilles told Chase that she did not have any matters for him to work on because they were staffed by other employees, including an associate who was hired while Chase was on medical leave.
Chase requested work from other partners, but “very few assignments came to fruition,” the suit says. The firm fired Chase on May 8, citing performance issues.
The suit alleges unlawful retaliation and discrimination under the Family Medical Leave Act and human rights laws in New York City and New York state. Chase plans to also file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and will seek to amend the suit, after receiving a right to sue notice, to allege violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The suit names as defendants Reed Smith, Achilles and partner Michael Lowell. Achilles and Lowell are co-chairs of Reed Smith’s global regulatory enforcement group. Chase is represented by the Wigdor law firm.
Reed Smith gave this statement to Law.com: “Mr. Chase’s allegations are unfounded, and we intend to defend this case vigorously. Reed Smith routinely makes personnel decisions as we evaluate performance and productivity across the firm. We invest a great deal in all of our talent, so they can be successful in supporting our clients and in pursuing their own professional goals.”