Paralegal v Lawyer

No, this is not another post on the dangers of lawyers doing paralegal jobs when it is abundantly clear that paralegals are trained to do that job and are thus much better at it than lawyers. It is the actual citation name for a 1992 case out of Pennsylvania, Paralegal v Lawyer ,783 F.Supp. 230 (1992). The court notes the reason for using the generic terms rather than the names:

Because this case devolved from disciplinary proceedings, yet pending, and unresolved before the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and because such proceedings are generally to be adjudicated in private, Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, Rule 402 Confidentiality, see, e.g., In re Anonymous No. D.B. 88, 5 Pa.D. & C. 4th 593 (1989), the names have been changed to protect the presumptively innocent. Although the case number is public record, I would hope that the news or legal reporters would see fit to exercise similar restraint, at least until verdict. Of course, I in no way so order, being mindful of Amendment One.

The case is interesting not just because of the name, but because it deals with an issue which has been a frequent topic here recently – paralegals dealing with (alleged) unethical conduct on the part of the attorneys for whom they work. Here’s the basics, which may sound all too familiar, but are really from 18 years ago:

This is a diversity case, governed by Pennsylvania law and asserting wrongful discharge from employment. Defendant moves for summary judgment, essentially averring that the discharged plaintiff, a paralegal employed by the defendant, a lawyer, has no cause of action because of the virtually impervious employment-at-will doctrine in Pennsylvania, see Hall v. Lankenau Hospital, 524 Pa. 90, 569 A.2d 346 (1990), and because, asserts defendant, plaintiff did not perform her job to his expectations, to say the least.

Plaintiff counters that she was, in today’s parlance, a whistleblower, fired in retaliation for calling evidence of her employer’s alleged misdeed to the attention of her employer’s attorney in a matter brought against her employer-lawyer, then pending before the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. She 231*231 argues that a retaliatory dismissal in the context of a profession such as the law, which is licensed and regulated by the state, falls within the public policy exception to the at-will doctrine. In fairness to the defendant lawyer, it must be said that he vigorously denies her charges, and claims that she is mentally unbalanced, vindictive, and perjurious. It is fair to say that he speaks ill of her and she of him.

In any event, more fully, plaintiff avers that the reason for her firing was that she had notified her employer’s lawyer in the disciplinary matter that her employer had submitted to the Disciplinary Board a back-dated letter to the complainant in the disciplinary proceeding, thus fabricating a false record. Plaintiff states that the defendant told her over the phone, while she was in the hospital, that he had authored and typed the letter himself. The apparent purpose of the letter, according to plaintiff, was to deceive the Disciplinary Board into thinking that he had earlier communicated with his client, thus thwarting a disciplinary complaint.

Upon receiving this letter, the lawyer’s lawyer immediately wrote defendant about it, and sent him a copy. The very next day, the defendant placed plaintiff on suspension, and shortly thereafter he terminated her. Plaintiff asserts that this falls within the clear public policy exception to the at-will doctrine. For purposes of this Rule 56 summary judgment motion, I agree.

The full case is here.

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