Legal Business Blogs

#MeToo: DLA Silicon Valley co-head forced out following sexual assault allegations

The co-managing partner of DLA Piper’s Silicon Valley office has been let go by the firm following accusations of sexual assault by a fellow partner.

In an open letter published earlier this month (2 October), DLA partner Vanina Guerrero alleged that fellow partner Louis Lehot sexually assaulted her multiple times after recruiting her to the firm in September 2018. Lehot was the firm’s co-managing partner of its Silicon Valley office and co-chair of its emerging growth and venture capital practice, with Guerrero detailing four alleged assaults in Shanghai, Brazil, Chicago and Palo Alto.

Lehot was also alleged to have an extreme temper that included shouting and clenching his fists, while Guerrero claims DLA did nothing about her complaints for months and took her off one of her practice’s largest deals after she detailed his conduct in July.

The letter says: ‘I went from working in Hong Kong as general counsel and the top female executive at a global tech company to being abused by Mr Lehot. During my entire career I was known for my intellect, tenacity and confidence. In less than nine months at DLA Piper under Mr Lehot, I became a shell of my former self — a woman who Mr Lehot regularly told me could only get clients because I was attractive.’

Guerrero’s letter, addressed to DLA’s co-chairs Roger Meltzer and Jay Rains, also criticised the firm’s mandatory arbitration policy which she had to undertake before she could go to court: ‘Release me from forced arbitration and allow me to assert my civil claims for assault, battery, sexual harassment and retaliation in our transparent court system,’ she wrote.

DLA has since let go of Lehot. In an email to lawyers and staff last Friday (11 October), Meltzer, Rains and Americas managing partner Stasia Kelly confirmed his departure.

Despite the fact that the allegations have not been substantiated by the investigation to date, the firm has concluded for various reasons that it is in the best interest of the firm that we part ways with Louis Lehot,’ the email said. ‘We understand and share the deep concern about this matter, and would like to be in a position to share more detailed information.  This is an ongoing legal matter, however, and therefore we cannot share further details.’

On the same day, a DLA lawyer who worked in its office as general counsel until mid-2019 published an open letter in support of Guerrero, similarly criticising the mandatory arbitration process and claiming the firm has a ‘culture of intimidation and oppression’: ‘These forced arbitration provisions give sexual predators the opportunity to abuse women without accountability or consequence. But such arbitration agreements also keep DLA’s dirty little secrets . . . well, very secret.’

The firm’s email to its staff continues by claiming it took the complaints with ‘utmost seriousness’ and immediately engaged outside counsel to investigate the matter, before it was made public, and that they are continuing to seek Guerrero’s cooperation with the investigation.

‘We are saddened that this type of allegation has arisen at our firm,’ the email said. ‘We remain steadfastly committed to our zero tolerance policy for harassment in the workplace, and the provision of training, resources and tools so that all lawyers and staff are apprised of our firm-wide protocols. Preserving our culture and guiding principles, and maintaining a safe, happy and healthy workplace is our priority.’