The nature of lawyers who work at New York City’s Legal Aid Society has always been extremely liberal, deeply passionate about equality. Even back in the 70s, when LAS lawyers were known as party animals, they sobered up when it came to their politics, and stood fearless against those who would hate their clients. This probably comes as no surprise, but it needed sayin’.
Lawyers at the Legal Aid Society of New York have been telling me their stories of hysterical baby lawyers attacking their more experienced colleagues.* Other than Appellate Squawk, no one wanted to go public. My guess is that they put the mission of LAS ahead of their treatment at the hands of the ideologically-stunted children, and took the hit rather than harm the cause. Of course, they also could have feared the retaliation by the outraged mob.
Finally, one experienced Legal Aid lawyer, Cynthia Taylor, was pushed too far and sued for its hostile work environment and wrongful termination.
When she asked why she was denied the post she was told it was because of “diversity considerations,” her Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit claims.
She soon discovered that a black man with “16 years less experience” than she was given the job instead, the court papers charge.
This was bad enough, but it was just the beginning of the onslaught of abuse she received at the hands of her fellow travelers. As another experienced Legal Aid lawyer told me, she “committed the sin of saying reasonable things when people are being hysterical.” And as the complaint states, they let her know that her thoughts were not appreciated. And the complaint names names, not just of the lawyers who attacked her but of the supervisors, and the head of the union, Debbie Wright, who not only did nothing to stop it but enabled it.
15. Southeast Asian Attorney in the AGV, Bharati Narumanchi, accused Ms. Taylor
of being a racist and classist, and stated that Ms. Taylor had no business working at LAS.
16. When Ms. Taylor asked to see the e-mail, Ms. Wright refused to provide it.
17. Ms. Narumanchi requested a mediation to resolve the accusations, and Ms. Taylor
agreed to this request when Ms. Wright stated the union would provide an experienced mediator at their expense.
18. Ms. Narumanchi later withdrew her request for mediation when Ms. Wright
prohibited two other members of the AGV Unit from joining the mediation.
19. Ms. Wright then advised Ms. Taylor to remove herself from the AGV Unit and
Ms. Narumanchi, who said several times to Ms. Taylor, “Senior Attorneys are lazy-do-nothings
that should be taken off the payroll.”
28. In June 2017, Jason Wu, Staff Attorney, sent an email to all the Staff Attorneys in
Ms. Taylor’s office, accusing her of being biased against Black men.
29. Ms. Taylor began to feel incredibly isolated in the office and worried that Mr.
Wu’s false accusations had affected the staff, as new hires seemed uncomfortable around her and unwilling to speak with her.
30. On July 30, 2017, Scott Rosenberg, Secretary and General Counsel of LAS,
informed Ms. Taylor that Mr. Wu filed a complaint against her.
31. After the complaint was filed, Ms. Taylor received an email full of insults from
ACLA member Marlen Bodden, which was copied to all staff members of LAS.
32. In the email, Ms. Bodden accused Ms. Taylor of being right-wing, entitled and
silencing the oppressed.
54. Ms. Bodden called Ms. Taylor a “raging racist,” told her to “put on a hood and
burn a cross in front of a Legal Aid building,” and threatened her with “consequences.”
What did Cynthia Taylor do to engender this outrage and these attacks from her fellow Legal Aid Lawyers? She sought a promotion based on her experience and qualifications, even though she was a white female lawyer. And she was, apparently, an inadequate “ally” to the cause. It wasn’t enough to be liberal to the core to protect her from the vitriolic ad hominem attacked of the inside LAS mob, and it wasn’t enough to have its management, or even its union, come to her defense and do something to calm the attacks.
If ever there was a hostile work environment, this is it, where even someone whose life and career were dedicated to liberal principles and equality found herself the victim of constant harrassment and attack.
55. Feeling as if it would be impossible for her to return to work under these
conditions, Ms. Taylor was forced to resign.
If ever there was a well-founded assertion that she had no choice but to resign in the face of both the harassment she endured, and the complete failure of management or union to protect her from it, this is the case.
It’s not that there weren’t other experienced lawyers at LAS who didn’t provide support and comfort to Taylor, but they couldn’t prevent the screams of “raging racist” unless they too wanted to become the target of the hysterical warriors. The screamers were out of control, and there was no grown-up in management or the union either willing, or desirous, to stem their attacks. Other experienced lawyers realize that if they spoke up, they too would be burned at the stake by their own mob.
Dennis Murphy, who trained lawyers at LAS before he retired and subsequently passed, told me a few years back that he feared the new lawyers coming in. They didn’t get it. They wouldn’t listen. They couldn’t be taught. It wasn’t just that they believed they knew it all, but they believed the experienced lawyers at LAS, deeply liberal, deeply committed to equality, but invariably committed to the defense of their clients, were now the enemy.
One “enemy” has decided not to go down without a fight, and by doing so, has opened a window on what’s become of the Legal Aid Society in the hands of the outraged mob.
*To be clear, not all young LAS lawyers were hysterical baby lawyers. Indeed, I’ve also heard from some young lawyers who have serious concerns about the hysteria of their brethren, but fear speaking out as they don’t want to become pariahs and the next victim of the mob.