Lawyer says firm let her go after she took family leave

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A former attorney with Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman is suing after she was allegedly let go for taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Melissa C. Angeline has sued the firm, managing partner Jason Copley and partners Marc Furman and Jonathan Landesman in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

She alleges they fired her at the conclusion of her leave under the FMLA, defamed her by telling other attorneys she was fired for poor performance, and misappropriated her name and likeness by keeping her picture on the firm website after she was gone.

The firm has said it will hire outside counsel to defend the case. Cohen Seglias, a construction law firm based in Philadelphia, has an office in Pittsburgh.

"This is an unfortunate situation," Mr. Copley said. "However, we deny all of the allegations, which are entirely without merit as Cohen Seglias handled all aspects of Ms. Angeline's employment with the firm in an appropriate and lawful manner."

He said it would be inappropriate to comment further given the matter is in litigation.

Ms. Angeline started at Cohen Seglias in July 2007 as a contract attorney. She moved up to a senior associate position in January 2008 and then senior counsel in December 2010. According to her complaint in Angeline v. Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman, she consistently received performance ratings of "exceeds expectations."

She also claimed that she was profitable for the firm, maintaining a "high realization rate for the hours she billed."

Ms. Angeline developed an unspecified health condition in April 2012 and was hospitalized May 15 and 16 of that year with a follow-up trip to the emergency room May 18. She was out of work until May 23, 2012, according to the complaint.

Ms. Angeline said Cohen Seglias documented her time off as falling under the FMLA and noted in that documentation that she would need additional leave on an intermittent basis moving forward.

In July 2012, according to the complaint, Cohen Seglias stopped paying Ms. Angeline a salary and began paying her on an hourly basis. Ms. Angeline alleged that she was still performing at the same level of work, which was reflected in a June 2012 performance review.

On Oct. 16, 2012, as her FMLA leave "was or was about to be exhausted for the year," she was terminated effective Oct. 31, according to the complaint.

Mr. Furman and Mr. Landesman allegedly told her that her employment was not being permanently terminated, but that she was being "temporarily laid off because of a lack of work."

She alleged Mr. Furman conceded that she would not have been laid off but for her health condition, according to the complaint. She said she was the only attorney laid off in 2012 due to an alleged lack of work.

Ms. Angeline said in the complaint that Cohen Seglias experienced an "abundance of business" between 2012 and the present, hiring multiple attorneys, acquiring two firms and opening new offices.

Under the FMLA count, Ms. Angeline is seeking wages, salary and benefits lost, reinstatement or front pay in lieu of reinstatement, liquidated damages, and attorney fees and costs. Under the defamation and misappropriation of name and likeness claims, she is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

legalnews

Gina Passarella: gpassarella@alm.com or 215-557-2494. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.


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