Cook County Record

Friday, December 6, 2019

Legal secretary sues Winston & Strawn, alleges was subjected to discrimination, harassment over epilepsy, hearing loss

By Scott Holland | Jul 6, 2015


A lawyer, who works as a legal secretary at Winston & Strawn in Chicago, is seeking at least $6 million in damages from the firm, alleging she was subjected to discrimination and harassment as she suffered hearing loss and symptoms of epilepsy.

Dyhan Slaughter filed suit against the firm July 2 in federal court in Chicago.

Slaughter began working as a legal secretary at Winston & Strawn in November 1998, and worked there more than 16 years. Though Slaughter is an attorney licensed in Illinois, she did not serve as lawyer for Winston & Strawn. She runs a volunteer legal practice for low-income clients.

Slaughter was diagnosed with epilepsy in 1977. She suffered a partial complex seizure in the summer of 2013 and, despite new medication, suffered a second partial complex seizure eight weeks later. That led to a prescription for a second anticonvulsant, which the complaint indicates she discontinued after experiencing severe side effects.

In addition to the epilepsy, Slaughter has experienced progressive hearing loss dating to early 2010. The condition, which she says will eventually leave her deaf, brings on bouts of vertigo. She classified both the hearing loss and the vertigo as episodic. When active, the former renders her unable to hear and work; the latter prevents her form standing and walking. In her complaint, Slaughter explicitly states she “is able to perform the essential functions of her job as a Winston legal secretary, with or without a reasonable accommodation” for the epilepsy, hearing loss and vertigo.

The lawsuit traces Slaughter’s problems with Winstron & Strawn back to May 2009, when her workstation was relocated from the 37th floor of the firm’s West Wacker Drive headquarters to the 41st floor. Shortly thereafter, the floor’s secretarial supervisor met with Slaughter to tell her a capital partner did not want to work near Slaughter. She soon was moved elsewhere on the floor. There, she says, she “suffered repeated incidents of unlawful mistreatment by attorneys and staff who were located in that corner.”

Slaughter says other employees intentionally played loud music near her desk and management ignored numerous emailed complaints. Slaughter asked one of the firm'spartners to lower the volume, but his response was to play “the music much louder, with more bass, and would have the music play continuously all day, even when he was out of the office.” The partner then allegedly ostracized Slaughter, “never acknowledging her again over the course of six years.” Slaughter eventually was allowed to move to a new desk.

Slaughter also had a problem with an associate attorney, who she alleges frequently “would come out of her office, slam a stack of documents and files onto the ledge above” Slaughter’s desk, then “spread the files along the ledge and loudly call over other attorneys or her secretary to conduct meetings on the ledge.” The two also clashed regarding use of Slaughter’s computer, and Slaughter said a secretary made racist remarks.

Slaughter said supervisors required her to present multiple notes from medical professionals regarding her request for quieter desk locations. In July 2009, the left side of Slaughter’s face and head went numb. Slaughter asserts the alleged discrimination continued even as her work station was moved throughout the building, including further instances of race-based conflict, and she said several emails about her complaints and medical issues were deleted from her account. She says the 2010 hearing loss and the 2013 seizures are a direct result of the work stress.

Slaughter is acting as her own attorney in pursuing the claims against Winston & Strawn. She is seeking at least $3 million in compensatory damages and for future medical care, as well as another $3 million in punitive damages.

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