New York Federal Jury Delivers Verdict for Law Firm in Retaliation Case

Today, a federal jury in a case before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a verdict against a black former associate of Davis Polk & Wardell LLP in a retaliation claim against his former law firm.

Plaintiff Kaloma Cardwell, who was fired from Davis Polk in 2018, sued the firm for discrimination and retaliation in 2019, alleging that he was terminated for raising racial bias and diversity concerns. Cardwell claimed that his internal complaints of racism resulted in negative performance evaluations and the denial of professional development opportunities. Davis Polk denied the allegations, asserting that Cardwell’s race played no part in the decision and that he was instead fired due to poor performance. The firm claimed that Cardwell failed to meet deadlines and perform his assigned tasks.

Although Judge Woods found that Cardwell’s claims failed to show discrimination in ruling on the firm’s motion for summary judgment, the retaliation claim was allowed to continue before the jury in a trial. At trial, Cardwell testified that his termination was part of a secret “scheme” to oust him from the firm. Davis Polk maintained the position that Cardwell was terminated for his poor performance, as is commonly the result in the BigLaw associate management model.

The ten-person jury ultimately absolved from liability the firm and the remaining two Davis Polk attorneys in the suit, which has spanned over four years.