In the US, a former Mayer Brown employee says that she was illegally fired by the firm because of her age. But after months of discovery, the case has bogged down over whether Mayer Brown has the right to subpoena Mary Ellen Hindin’s previous employers for records related to her past performance.

Hindin, 58, alleges in a complaint filed in February in D.C. Superior Court that despite working as a paralegal at the firm since September 2007 and receiving positive performance reviews and raises, she was fired after the firm hired a much younger person to perform similar duties.

Hindin’s complaint alleges that in July 2008, after being transferred to Mayer Brown’s government contracts practice when the real estate practice “slow[ed] down,” she received a $3,613 raise, bringing her salary to $88,613, and was complimented for her “valued contribution to the Washington office.”

But in the fall of 2008, the complaint alleges, the firm hired Cody Smith, a contract employee with the Robert Lynn Group, to work as a paralegal in the government contracts practice. The complaint estimates that Smith is either 22 or 23 years old.

The complaint says that in mid-February 2009, paralegal work for the government contracts group was substantially decreased after two bid protests the group was handling had their statuses changed. The complaint alleges that as a result of the slowdown in the government contracts group, Marcia Madsen, the practice chair, shifted much of Hindin’s work to Smith.

Madsen ultimately fired Hindin on April 2, 2009, the complaint alleges. Madsen declined to comment.

Hindin does not name a specific amount for her alleged damages but asks that the court rule in her favor based on emotional harm and for financial harm as a result of the firm’s allegedly unlawful actions. Hindin also requests punitive damages.

Hindin is being represented by Leizer Goldsmith and Adam Marker of the Goldsmith Law Firm. Marker declined to comment.

Madsen and Mayer Brown, which are being represented by a team from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, contend that Hindin’s allegations are barred by the statute of limitations and the doctrine of unclean hands.

Michele Roberts, a white-collar defense partner at Akin Gump, writes in the firm’s July 6 answer to the complaint that Mayer Brown is “not liable for any award of punitive damages because defendants did not commit any knowing, wanton, recklessly indifference or malicious act, and because defendants did not ratify such act.” Roberts did not return calls for additional comment.

The latest action in the case has to do with subpoenas Mayer Brown sent to Hindin’s previous employers, which include some major players in Washington’s legal community. Nixon Peabody, Hunton & Williams and Boston Properties, which owns many of the buildings leased by Washington law firms, have all received subpoenas. The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington where Hindin is currently working, has also been subpoenaed.

Mayer Brown has requested that Hindin’s past employers turn over letters, attendance records, evaluations, salary information, charges or complaints of discrimination and separation-from-employment documents.

Hindin’s lawyers have moved to quash those subpoenas. They argue that the subpoenas are “irrelevant and overbroad.” Goldsmith writes in an Oct. 21 court pleading, “The subpoenas place an undue burden on plaintiff in that they expose her to possible adverse consequences at her present job and embarrassment.”

But on Nov. 3, Mayer Brown argued that it is “entitled” to the documents being sought because Hindin “brought this suit and herself put the issues of her performance, emotional state, and potential damages in play.”

Judge John Mott, who is presiding over the case, has not yet ruled on whether to quash the subpoenas. 

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