The chair of Los Angeles-based Buchalter APC’s products liability group verbally abused and sexually harassed a subordinate on a regular basis – including repeated requests for her to perform sex acts – while the firm’s management looked the other way, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in California state court.
Karen Hurdle, who was hired as a legal analyst at Buchalter in June 2016 before her title was changed to senior legal administrator products liablilyt, is currently on medical leave from the firm. She alleges that her supervisor, shareholder Gary Wolensky, regularly gave her assignments accompanied by sexually inappropriate comments, according to the complain against Buchalter and Wolensky filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“On November 4, 2020, Wolensky messaged her a task and disgustingly stated, ‘Karen, could you type something up for Jan and then give me a blowjob please? Thanks!!’ with laughing face emoticons,” according to the suit.
At other times, Wolensky went into Hurdle’s office and wrote sexually inappriopriate comments on her office whiteboard, like “Goal for 2021 SMBFDYW,” which meant “suck my big fat d*ck you wh*re,” and “
I need my c*ck sucked,” according to the complaint, which includes images of the alleged texts and whiteboard comments.
Hurdle said Buchalter was aware of Wolensky’s harassing conduct but chose to ignore the behavior and protect him at her expense.
During a firm meeting regarding sexual harassment training, when Wolensky reportedly said, "Why do I need to take sexual harassment training? I have insurance," Buchalter management laughed at his comment, according to the suit.
In fact, the harassment was common knowledge amongst employees, the suit states. Kathleen McFarland-Ramirez, a former Buchalter paralegal, saw the firm's "good old boys' club" culture and specifically witnessed Wolensky's harassment of Hurdle, according to the complaint.
McFarland-Ramirez mentioned the problematic conduct in her detailed exit questionnaire: "Gary's behavior was reported to this firm, many have suffered at the hands of it on his team, attorneys staff," she wrote in the questionnaire, a copy of which is attached as an exhibit to the complaint. "I hope Gary Wolensky is no longer protected due to the income he brings to the firm ... I really hope you care about your employees, treat us as if we are your mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters."
"I do matter," she added at the end of her questionnaire. "Asking for a blowjob of my coworker or constantly threatening others with names or the possibility of being fired, being 'pussies' for leaving this job ... that's so 'Me Too' over."
Hurdle also dealt with health problems during her employment at Buchalter and underwent operations, but when she informed Wolensky she would not be coming to the office, he reportedly responded, "You want a war? You got one. Take another offer," according to the complaint.
Wolensky also publicly ridiculed Hurdle, according to the complaint, writing a LinkedIn post in November 2020 that stated, "Karen Hurdle #Kudos #ThankYou very much for everything you do. NOT!!!"
When she defended herself, Hurdle said, Wolensky lashed out and implied that he would fire her, but a few hours later, he claimed he was having a "bad day," the suit states. In September, Hurdle went on a medical leave of absence, according to the complaint.
Hurdle said she filed complaints against Buchalter and Wolensky with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing, which issued her a "right to sue" letter on July 15. She filed her instant suit a few days later on Monday.
The suit includes claims of sexual harassment, discrimination on the basis of sex, harassment on the basis of disability and retaliation for requesting accommodations, as well as failure to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Hurdle is seeking compensatory, general, exemplary and punitive damages, litigation costs, attorney fees and injunctive relief.
"Ms. Hurdle is seeking justice after suffering traumatic abuse at Buchalter due to sexual harassment by one of their prominent partners," Tamara S. Freeze of Workplace Justice Advocates PLC, an attorney for Hurdle, told Law360 on Tuesday. "Buchalter had numerous opportunities to stop Mr. Wolensky's abhorrent behavior but did not. She looks forward to a jury verdict in this case."
In a statement to Law360 on Tuesday, Buchalter said it was "deeply committed to maintaining a respectful workplace environment for all of our colleagues," but that "as a matter of privacy and policy," it does not comment on personnel matters.