Jones Day bristles over remote depositions in ex-associates’ bias case

The law firm of Jones Day is seen in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Two married former associates suing over parental leave push for remote depositions, citing pandemic
  • Jones Day prefers in-person but said no substantive decisions made yet

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(Reuters) – Jones Day traded barbs with two former associates suing the law firm for alleged workplace bias on Monday over whether remote depositions should be allowed as a safety measure amid a surge in new COVID-19 infections.

In a filing in Washington, D.C., federal court, former associates Marc Savignac and his wife Julia Sheketoff said Jones Day’s stated preference for in-person depositions in January “seeks to endanger [the] plaintiffs and their unvaccinated young children.”

Jones Day disputed the claim, saying in its own filing that Savignac and Sheketoff “have absolutely no basis for this outrageous and false assertion.” The firm said the filing showed a “desire to publicly harm the reputation of Jones Day, rather than engage in good faith in the discovery process.”

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U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss on Tuesday directed the sides to talk it out and report back to him by Thursday on the positions.

Sheketoff and Savignac in 2019 sued Jones Day over its family leave policy, claiming it unlawfully discriminated against fathers because it only offered paid disability leave for birth mothers. Jones Day, representing itself in the lawsuit, has denied the claims.

Savignac declined to comment on Tuesday. A lawyer for Jones Day, partner Terri Chase, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Courts and law firms quickly embraced remote-video technology during the pandemic for depositions, hearings and client meetings. But such communication has limitations, as it can be more difficult to assess visual and audible cues among the participants.

On Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reinstated the city’s indoor mask mandate amid a rise in new COVID-19 cases.

The plaintiffs said in court filings they want to depose Jones Day lawyers including managing partner Stephen Brogan and Kevyn Orr, partner-in-charge of the firm’s U.S. offices.

Jones Day said in a letter to the plaintiffs on Dec. 17 the law firm would agree to depositions in Chicago “or some other reasonable Illinois location convenient for plaintiffs.”

Savignac and Sheketoff’s court filing on Monday said “there is no justification for Jones Day to demand that plaintiffs and their children incur such a risk as cases continue to mount, hospitals to fill, and death tolls to rise.”

Jones Day called the plaintiffs’ court papers “premature” and said the parties had not engaged in any extended discussions about “the parameters of the depositions or to negotiate about accommodations.”

The case is Savignac v. Jones Day, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 19-cv-02443.

For Mark Savignac and Julia Sheketoff: pro se

For Jones Day: Terri Chase of Jones Day

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Blythe Schroeder