Last Updated: 12:15 AM, June 11, 2012
Posted: 10:36 PM, June 10, 2012
We’re all supposed to get our day in court. But have you noticed that some people seem to get more than one? Take the power couple of Ellen Pao and Alphonse Fletcher Jr.: The American Bar Association should give them some kind of award for bringing so much business to the legal profession.
Pao has won a ton of media coverage for her sexual-discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
After she went to work at Kleiner in 2005 as a junior partner, her suit alleges, another employee on her level began making “inappropriate” sexual advances, to which, according to her complaint, she “succumbed . . . on two or three occasions.” When she stopped sleeping with him, she claims, he engaged in a “consistent pattern of retaliation.”
The lawsuit accuses Kleiner senior management of both ignoring her complaints about retaliation and discriminating against its female employees more generally.
Let’s leave aside the fact that three Ivy League degrees (from Princeton in electrical engineering and from Harvard for business and law) aren’t enough to teach a woman not to sleep with a co-worker, let alone one who is making “inappropriate” advances. Why continue working for such a company? Surely, even in the sexist world of finance, there are other firms that would value a woman of Pao’s abilities.
The story of a downtrodden secretary dependent for her livelihood on some letch of a boss this is not.
Sometime after her relationship with her co-worker ended, Pao married Alphonse Fletcher Jr. He got some press of his own last year when he filed a suit against the co-op board of the famed Dakota, on the Upper West Side.
Fletcher, a hedge-fund manager, wanted to expand his three-bedroom apartment in the building by buying an adjacent one. The board turned him down, saying it doubted he could afford a fifth unit in the building. (On top of his main residence, he also owns his mother’s apartment and two other units for employees’ use and storage.) That’s when Fletcher, who is black, sued for racial discrimination.
The board claimed that Fletcher’s tax returns showed only about $700,000 in adjusted gross income — hardly enough to foot the mortgage and maintenance on the units he planned to own.
Fletcher claimed he could have covered the bill with deferred compensation he was owed. And he cited racial slurs he said he’d overheard from other residents. Of course, they did elect him president of the co-op board, but that was probably just a cover.
Nor was this the first time he’d sued for racial discrimination. In 1991, he claimed that his bosses at Kidder Peabody hadn’t paid him what they promised. Arbitrators ultimately awarded him $1.3 million, but with no finding of discrimination. Still, why not try again?
These days, one might note, it looks like the folks at the Dakota may have been justified in their sense that something was fishy with Fletcher’s finances. Earlier this year, Louisiana filed a petition with the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands in an effort to recoup more than $100 million in pension money they’d invested with Fletcher’s hedge fund.
Fletcher had offered the state a minimum 12 percent annual return — a deal The Wall Street Journal called “unusual.” In April, a Freedom of Information request showed that Fletcher was dipping into another one of his funds to repay Louisiana.
Getting dizzy? Wait; there’s more. In 2003, Fletcher settled a suit by a man he’d hired to manage his home in Connecticut. The guy alleged that Fletcher made sexual advances to him. (Before Fletcher married Pao, he was gay.) A few years later, Fletcher was sued by another property manager, who claimed he was fired after refusing Fletcher’s sexual advances.
Despite the legwork of reporters at the Journal, The New York Times and The Times-Picayune, among other publications, the details of much of this legal wrangling still aren’t clear. Maybe the Harvard Law Review could devote an issue to Fletcher and Pao next year?
Naomi Schaefer Riley writes frequently about religion, education and culture.