Patton Boggs, one of the District’s largest law and lobbying firms, is denying allegations that it fired a female employee last year in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment.
Kristine Colombo, who worked as a business development manager in Patton Boggs’ D.C. office from 2007 to 2011, sued the firm in April, saying she was harassed by a former male IT employee during a happy hour event held at the firm last year. Colombo claimed the firm did not properly investigate the alleged harassment, and later fired her out of retaliation for complaining. The suit, filed in D.C. Superior Court on April 11, seeks $12 million in damages.
According to the complaint, the male employee had been drinking at the happy hour and repeatedly harassed Colombo, at one point grabbing her neck from behind and choking her, and later saying, “You’ve been raped before — that’s better for me.”
Colombo reported the incident — which occurred in the presence of at least two other employees — to the firm’s human resources manager, who said she would investigate the actions. Colombo claimed she did not hear anything further about the outcome of her complaint, and was later told by a Patton Boggs administrator to “just forget about” the issues.
In documents filed with the court Tuesday, Patton Boggs either denied or said it “lacks sufficient information to admit or deny” the allegations, and asked the judge to throw out the case. In the filing, the firm maintains it did not illegally fire Colombo, but neither admits nor denies Colombo’s claim that the male employee choked her, acknowledging only that during a human resources investigation, she said he put her in a chokehold and said, “Guess who?”
The firm acknowledged that the administrator did meet with Colombo, but denied that he told her to forget about the incident.
“Patton Boggs denies any liability and avers it lawfully terminated Ms. Colombo’s employment,” wrote Steven McCool of Mallon & McCool, the attorney representing Patton Boggs, in a response to the complaint. McCool declined to comment further.
Colombo was terminated after her supervisors received complaints from other employees for “disruptive behavior in the workplace,” McCool wrote.
A Patton Boggs spokesperson said the human resources department did in fact investigate the harassment claims and documented the investigation.
“Before this lawsuit was filed, we voluntarily shared those documents with Ms. Colombo’s attorney and permitted her attorney to question the two human resource professionals who conducted that investigation,” the firm said in a statement. “It is a shame that Ms. Colombo and her counsel chose to ignore the evidence and file this case. We are confident that we will prevail in Court and are fully prepared to defend our actions.”
Colombo’s attorney, Carla Brown of the Reston law firm Charlson Bredehoft Cohen Brown & Sakata, declined to comment Tuesday because she had yet to review Patton Boggs’ response filed with the court.