A lawyer who was fired from his job with a temporary legal staffing company has filed a defamation suit against Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, alleging he was let go after the firm told his employer it suspected him of stealing documents.
According to his complaint, filed pro se on March 15 at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, James Zhang was a lawyer with Special Counsel Inc., a Jacksonville, Fla.-based company that provides legal support services to corporations and law firms. In March 2009 he was working at Wilmer’s D.C. office (the complaint does not state whether he was doing work for the firm). He alleges that he was updating his resume using a computer at his desk there when one of the firm’s staff attorneys, Michael Layman, stopped him. Layman asked Zhang whether he was downloading firm documents onto his flash drive. Zhang said no, according to the complaint.
Zhang claims he was then led into a conference room where he met with Wilmer partner Bruce Berman, who asked him to hand over the flash drive. Zhang again refused, but allegedly went with Berman to a nearby Fedex Kinkos to show him the drive’s contents.
Nonetheless, Zhang alleges that at some point that week, someone informed Special Counsel about Layman’s “baseless suspicion” that he had stolen documents. “Thereafter, Plaintiff was never again employed by Special Counsel,” the complaint states.
The suit names the firm as well as Layman as defendants. Zhang is asking for $200,000 in compensatory damages and $600,000 in punitive damages. Zhang and Wilmer declined to comment. Special Counsel, which was not named in the suit, did not respond to a request for comment.
Zhang was sued for malpractice by Footbridge Limited Trust in 2004. The case was dismissed entirely in 2008 after the judge ruled for Zhang on summary judgment.