Judge trips legal secretary’s discrimination suit v. Winston Strawn, says case doesn’t have ‘leg to stand on’

By Dan Churney | Jul 16, 2018

A Chicago federal judge has tossed a lawsuit by a legal secretary at the Chicago firm of Winston & Strawn, who alleged harassment by fellow employees aggravated her epilepsy, finding part of the suit was barred by statute of limitations and the rest by a faulty “chain of logic.”

A Chicago federal judge has tossed a lawsuit by a legal secretary at the Chicago firm of Winston & Strawn, who alleged harassment by fellow employees aggravated her epilepsy, finding part of the suit was barred by statute of limitations and the rest by a faulty “chain of logic.”

The July 12 decision was issued by U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, who concluded plaintiff Dyhan Slaughter’s disability discrimination suit against Winston & Strawn didn’t have “a leg to stand on.”

Winston & Strawn, which is the oldest law firm based in Chicago, has offices around the globe.

Slaughter lodged a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the firm in 2013 and again in April 2015, before filing a six-count suit against the firm in July 2015, seeking $6 million. Slaughter, who was diagnosed with epilepsy in 1977, alleged she had been hassled by several coworkers and superiors since 2009, the stress of which caused seizures and hearing loss, hindering her ability to work.

As examples of the alleged mistreatment, Slaughter claimed she faced ostracization and racist remarks, with one fellow employee constantly playing loud music to her annoyance and another regularly conducting business very loudly next to Slaughter’s desk. Slaughter alleged management was not sympathetic to her protests.

 After she complained to the EEOC, she alleged the firm retaliated by reducing the pay raise she should otherwise have received and slashing her bonus. When she sued the firm, Slaughter was making about $71,000 per year; the firm caps pay for secretaries at $77,100, according to court documents.

Winston & Strawn moved to dismiss three of Slaughter’s counts - intentional discrimination, interference, coercion and intimidation, and unlawful inquiry into the nature of her disability.

The judge then presiding over the case, Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, granted the motion in November 2015, finding Slaughter’s claims were not filed within the required 90 days after the EEOC told her she had the right to sue. Der-Yeghiayan also determined the claims did not “plausibly suggest extreme and outrageous conduct” on the firm’s part.

Der-Yeghiayan retired and the case fell in the lap of Judge Leinenweber. The firm then moved to dismiss the rest of the case, which included allegations of retaliation, denial of compensation and failure to accommodate her disability. 

Leinenweber found, as did Der-Yeghiayan, Slaughter brought her suit too late and otherwise did not present persuasive arguments, relying on “sheer conjecture,” with “pieces missing from” her “chain of logic.”

“No reasonable jury could find for Slaughter on her discrimination or retaliation claims,” Leinenweber said.

As far as Slaughter’s claim the firm did not accommodate her disability, Leinenweber said Slaughter’s own evidence proved otherwise.

In this connection, Slaughter’s doctor asked she be excused from group evaluations at the firm and one-on-one meetings with management. The firm complied, not demanding she take part in such activities after 2013.

“Simply put, Slaughter admits that W&S provided her exactly the accommodations” she “requested” and “no inference in her favor props them up,” Leinenweber said.

Winston & Strawn has been represented by the Chicago firm of Schiff Hardin.

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Schiff Hardin LLP U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Winston and Strawn LLP

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