Maria Brown, a former employee of Nutt & McAlister, a law firm that was and is a key player in Katrina litigation as part of the Scruggs Katrina Group, has sued the firm for employment discrimination, breach of contract and other claims. Click here to read a copy of the lawsuit, and click here to read the exhibits to the complaint. Let’s remember these are just allegations and are only one side of the story — here’s what the lawsuit alleges:
- The firm knowingly kept electronic records of State Farm claims documents that had been ordered returned by Judge William Acker in a December 2006 preliminary injunction. You may recall that Dickie Scruggs’ failure to promptly return his copies of the same documents resulted in his ongoing prosecution for alleged criminal contempt of court in Alabama. When Brown complained about the keeping of the records, she was told it was OK because the documents were in the public domain.
- "The overall environment was saturated with sex which consisted of sexual innuendoes, sexual acts, on-line masturbation, payments for sexual favors performed in the broom closet, sexual overtures and adultery."
- The firm promised to pay off the $85,000 she owed on her home as a bonus for working hard, but than paid her only $5,000 from Katrina proceeds.
- Brown was sexually harassed, including by being presented a picture of the genitalia of a male member of the firm. This person then asked her for a picture of her genitalia. She declined. She informed management of the harassment but they did nothing about it.
- She was terminated for complaining about the sexual harassment and the "illegal activity . . . with regard to Judge Acker’s Preliminary Injunction."
The really intriguing allegation is that Nutt & McAlister failed to comply with Acker’s order. Because the order required the Rigsby sisters and their agents to return all copies of documents they had taken from State Farms claims contractor E.A. Renfore, the question is whether Nutt & McAlister was an agent and what obligation the firm was under to comply with the injunction. Prosecutors say that Scruggs, as their attorney, was their agent. But even if the SKG rather than Scruggs himself paid the $150,000 per year consulting salaries of the Rigsby sisters, that makes them agents of the SKG, not vice versa.
The implication of the complaint is that the firm sent back paper copies but kept electronic copies, which, if true, would belie an assertion that the firm believed they were not subject to Acker’s order. Indeed, the complaint alleges that the justification for not deleting the electronic records was that they were in the public domain. Some of the documents might, in fact, have previously been used in litigation or given to the media, but that is not the same thing as saying this exempts them from Acker’s order. We do not know, from the allegations of the complaint, whether these electronic records purportedly were of all the 5,000 to 15,000 documents taken by the Rigsby sisters, or only some.
Again, it’s only one side of the story.