Wednesday, October 9, 2002
Attorney Who Was Rebuked in Press Release Files Suit Against Pillsbury
By DON PARRET, Staff Writer
Frode Jensen III, the former Pillsbury Winthrop partner who was set to join Latham & Watkins before his ex-firm circulated a statement alleging sexual harassment and waning productivity, sued his old firm yesterday in Stamford, Conn., seeking $45 million.
The suit seeks redress for “character and commercial assassination of a disgraceful and repugnant sort,” according to the complaint, which alleges that it was done by Pillsbury in order to ruin Jensen’s reputation and destroy his partnership at Latham.
Jensen was due to start at Los Angeles-based Latham’s New York office this month as a partner, where he was offered $1.05 million a year, according to the suit. But the firm withdrew the offer last month.
The suit said that Pillsbury was “desperately concerned about the likely negative consequences” with the public perception of Jensen’s move to Latham and its future recruitment efforts.
Jensen names the firm in the suit, as well as chairwoman Mary Cranston, vice chairman John F. Pritchard, managing partner Marina H. Park and five unnamed defendants, who are described in the complaint as outside advisors, including a headhunting firm and its owner.
When Latham announced in August it had hired Jensen, who worked in Pillsbury’s Stamford office, Cranston responded with a press release.
“Jensen’s departure comes on the heels of sexual harassment allegations ... and a significant decline in his productivity,” Cranston said in the release, which went on to say that Jensen had been “largely absent” from his office this year.
“Pillsbury Winthrop previously had intended not to comment on Mr. Jensen’s departure in order to downplay the event,” it said.
The press release last month quoted Cranston saying: “Our firm values respect and integrity above all else. We investigated the harassment claims, concluded that there was a reasonable likelihood that harassment had occurred and responded with a variety of measures. It is always sad to lose a friend and colleague to another firm, however, under the circumstances of the past year, Mr. Jensen’s move is probably in the best interest of all concerned, and we wish him well with his new firm.”
Cranston, who works in the firm’s San Francisco office, explained in the release that “Latham & Watkins did not contact anyone in Pillsbury Winthrop’s management in connection with a reference check for Mr. Jensen.”
The complaint also alleges that one of the defendants named in the suit placed an unsolicited telephone call to Latham and spoke directly to officials of its New York office “for the sole and express purpose of disparaging Jensen and undermining and destroying his Latham partnership.”
Pillsbury’s general counsel Ronald E. Van Buskirk would not comment on the complaint, “except to say that Mr. Jensen is a disgruntled ex-partner making unjustified allegations.”
The firm has retained former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White, who is now a partner in the New York office of Debevoise & Plimpton.
White is currently involved defending Rosie O’Donnell in a breach-of-contract suit that seeks damages of over $300 million after the television personality and comedienne decided to terminate an agreement with New York publisher Gruner & Jahr. O’Donnell filed a countersuit against the publisher last week.
Jensen’s attorney, Stanley S. Arkin of New York-based Arkin Kaplan LLP, said that Pillsbury’s actions were “gratuitously mean and wrong.”
“They are guilty of trying to destroy Mr. Jensen’s reputation and career,” Arkin said. “All efforts by Mr. Jensen to resolve the matter amicably were unavailing and Pillsbury left him no choice but to assert his claims.”
Jensen, 52, co-chaired Pillsbury’s mergers and acquisitions group and was a member of its 11-member managing board.
Jensen practiced for 14 years at Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts, a New York firm that merged with Pillsbury Madison & Sutro in 2001.
With Pillsbury, Jensen worked on several large deals, including the $35 billion merger of Swedish drug maker Astra AB and British pharmaceuticals company Zeneca Group PLC.
The suit said that during the last six years, Jensen’s annual billings for the firm grew from $1 million to $10 million, averaging $5 million a year.
Jensen is seeking actual damages of $15 million and punitive damages of $30 million, the complaint said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company