But the masterstroke of revenge was the mountain of material Charney unloaded about Alexandra Korry, all secondhand: how Serota once refused to work with Korry “because of the daily abuse and profanity-laced scolding Serota had received”; how another associate supposedly moved to the London office just to get away from her; how another associate quit a deal of Korry’s when she shrieked at him, “You’re screwing me!”
Strangest of all, Charney’s lawsuit accuses the firm of being discriminatory against another group as well. Serota, he says, told him that Krautheimer once insulted Grinberg behind his back at a dinner party hosted by Korry—for being Canadian. The firm, somewhat awkwardly, has been put in the position of having to flatly deny any anti-Canadian bias.
The legal world went wild for the Charney lawsuit—Charney’s interview with Canadian television made the rounds online, and the Above the Law blog is still feasting on every morsel of the case—and then went equally wild for the backlash from the firm. Sullivan & Cromwell chairman Rodgin Cohen denied everything—throwing in for good measure that Charney tried in vain to squeeze the firm for a multi-million-dollar cash settlement. Sullivan’s eleven openly gay partners issued a statement rejecting any suggestion that the firm fosters a hostile environment toward gays. Charney wasn’t getting much support from gay- advocacy groups either. The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund turned down his case. And John Scheich, vice-president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Law Association of Greater New York (LeGal), told ABC that Sullivan often buys a table at his group’s annual fund-raising dinner-dance and that “if I had to line up on one side or the other, I would have to line up with David H. Braff”—a prominent gay partner at Sullivan. (LeGal has since retracted Scheich’s comment, and Scheich has resigned.)
Braff, who has been out front in defending the firm from any notion of homophobia, tells me, “I came to this firm because of its reputation for being an open environment. I and others helped build on that reputation. It’s very difficult to see someone do damage to this reputation in what I think is an unfair way.” It’s a sentiment that makes Charney furious. “It’s totally unclear to me,” he says, “how somebody who has never met me could suggest that because we sit in the same building and he’s in an environment that he’s happy in, that that is in any way reflective of what’s happening in my environment.”
In February, the firm struck back in court, charging in its countersuit that Charney had turned his lawsuit into “the centerpiece of a malicious public-relations campaign” and accusing him of using confidential documents to make his case, including some that revealed client information. More than that, they accused him of stealing a document from the office next to his and leaking it to The Wall Street Journal, which cited the document in an embarrassing article about Sullivan’s poorly rated associate program. Charney signed two different firms to represent him: the employment-law specialists Herbert Eisenberg and Laura Schnell and the civil-rights-focused Danny Alterman. “Bring your lunch,” says Alterman, a protégé of Bill Kunstler, “because we’re going to be here for a long, long time.”
But it’s Sullivan & Cromwell that’s on the offensive. At a private meeting between Charney, Grinberg, and Sullivan’s lawyers on January 31, the law firm threatened to crush Charney “like a bug,” Charney’s lawyers say. (Sullivan representatives deny the meeting was rancorous.) Charney was apparently so terrified that he destroyed his home computer’s hard drive, twice—first taking it to a store to have it erased, then smashing it to bits. Sullivan’s lawyers, led by litigator Charles Stillman, are arguing this destruction of evidence could be a criminal matter, prompting Charney to add a new member to his legal team: Michael Kennedy, who defended accused murderer Robert Durst.
Neither side has much incentive to settle. For Sullivan, a trial could be messy, but settling could be messier, losing the firm untold millions in revenue from clients who interpret cutting a deal as an admission of guilt. Charney, meanwhile, has nothing left to lose. Assuming neither side blinks, the case will orbit around the question of whom to believe—the problematic young associate or his gruff but respected bosses.
An insult is a complicated and combustible thing. Whatever its intent, one harsh, horrible sentence can be read a thousand different ways. Given how much he wanted to be a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, it seems incredible that Charney would make up what happened out of whole cloth. Then again, Sullivan & Cromwell is by all other accounts decent to gay people, and no one else interviewed for this story seems to believe Krautheimer and Korry discriminate against gay co-workers. Krautheimer, says one lawyer who has worked with him, is “equal-opportunity rude and nasty.” Another source who knows all the parties posits this theory: “It is at least plausible that Krautheimer and Korry—not based on homophobia but just on the fact that they didn’t like this guy—just ganged up on him. And she makes the mistake of talking with one of his friends who’d worked exclusively for her. The firm really should have nipped it in the bud.”