Two attorneys in Fox Rothschild LLP’s New Jersey office are accused of sexual harassment, and more, in a lawsuit filed by a former administrative assistant who alleges she was terminated after reporting the behavior.
From 2014 to 2017, Stephanie Jones alleges that Fox Rothschild counsel Ian Siminoff sent her sexually-charged text messages, asked her about oral sex, fondled her breasts and genitals, and attempted to force himself on her in an office bathroom.
The suit, filed in the Southern District of New York with the support of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, also alleges Fox Rothschild partner Michael Barabander sexually harassed her by consistently singing the 1972 Billy Paul song “Me and Mrs. Jones,” a sexually suggestive song about an affair.
According to the lawsuit, Siminoff’s harassment of Jones began in January 2014, when they met for drinks in West Orange to talk about Jones’ position as Barabander’s assistant. That night, Siminoff allegedly asked Jones if she enjoyed oral sex. According to the suit, Jones left immediately after that. In the months and years thereafter, Siminoff allegedly began sending Jones lewd text messages, including a March 31, 2017 message reading “Don’t mind me, I’m just laying here at 3 am thinking about kissing your breasts,” and an April 4, 2017 text message asking about the color of her undergarments.
According to the lawsuit, Siminoff also fondled Jones’ breasts and put his hands under her dress in the months after their drink in West Orange.
Jones first reported Siminoff’s behavior to office manager Elli Albert in August 2014, when she asked to be removed from the rotation of Siminoff’s desk. Albert denied her request, and told Jones that if she was unhappy at Fox Rothschild, there were “plenty of other places to work.”
In January 2015, Siminoff allegedly attempted to rape Jones after work in a deserted bathroom, but Jones “fought off the sexual assault.”
When Jones detailed allegations of “incidents of abusive, humiliating, harassing behavior” against Barabander in an email to Albert in February 2016, Albert said she would communicate with Barabander about his actions but failed to complete an investigation of the harassment complaint, or communicate her findings or intended actions to Jones, according to the suit.
The complaint filed Wednesday morning brings claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, New York State Human Rights Law and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The eight counts include complaints of civil assault and battery, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision and retention.
A representative of Fox Rothschild sent a statement to NJBIZ via email from Fox Rothschild General Counsel Tom Paradise.
“We are disturbed by the details alleged in the complaint filed today in the Southern District of New York. The attorney who was named a defendant in the suit was terminated this morning from Fox Rothschild,” Paradise said.
The filing omits facts and contains inaccuracies, according to Paradise.
“We believe once brought to light, those facts will demonstrate that Fox Rothschild takes any reporting of harassment as serious and conducts thorough investigations of such reported allegations, as noted in our Harassment-Free Workplace Policy,” Paradise said. “At no time prior to Ms. Jones’ termination from the firm did she report any incidents of harassment by Ian Siminoff as detailed in her complaint.”
Tyrone Blackburn, Jones’ attorney and founding member at T.A. Blackburn Law PLLC in New York, told NJBIZ that Fox Rothschild knew of the allegations and paid to have the text messages extracted from Stephanie Jones’ phone.
“The fact that they allowed Ian to continue to work there for two years exposing other women to a known sexual deviant shows how much Fox truly values having a sexual harassment-free workplace. This message is no longer just for Fox, it’s for their clients,” Blackburn said. “They can either stand with Stephanie and the #MeToo movement, or they can continue paying for sexual harassment because as we will prove in our case, Ian Siminoff was sexually harassing Stephanie Jones while conducting depositions. I can send you a photo of his penis as well, because I have that, too. All of a sudden they want to get rid of him, and I find that to be amusing.”
According to Blackburn, Jones had trouble finding an attorney in New Jersey to represent her because the ones she spoke with received business from Fox Rothschild and didn’t want to take on the case.
Albert, Siminoff and Barabender did not return requests for comment by press time.
Editor’s note: This article originally identified Siminoff as a partner. That was incorrect. It has been updated.