The $30m (£18.9m) suit, filed today in the civil division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, alleges that Howrey discriminated against Kamisha Menns because of her race and national origin.
Menns, a Jamaican, is a former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer associate who worked at Howrey between January and June last year. She is thought to be the first and only black attorney to ever work in Howrey’s Brussels office.
According to the claim, Menns’s employment at the US firm was ended the day after she made a formal written complaint to Howrey’s DC headquarters.
Menns’ complaint describes escalating hostility and discrimination from former colleagues, staff and supervisors at Howrey. She claims that when she spoke to Howrey’s Brussels managing partner Trevor Soames about the way she was being treated he said what she was experiencing was racism, “which he recognised as a Jewish person”.
According to Menns, Soames added that the firm’s staff and lawyers were reacting in that way “because they had never been forced to be in a subordinate position to a black person, particularly a black woman with my level of education or who looked and spoke like I did”.
The racially charged comments and racial stereotyping from other attorneys escalated after this meeting, Menns claims.
Menns is seeking damages of $30m in accumulated lost wages and benefits plus compensation.
She is being represented by David Sanford in the Washington DC office of Sanford Wittels & Heisler.
Howrey said: “Personnel issues are always confidential and we will have no comment on this particular matter.”