Anamika Roy//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//June 13, 2018
//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
//June 13, 2018
After a seven-day trial over three weeks, a Baltimore jury deliberated for about two hours before determining Wednesday afternoon that Miles & Stockbridge PC breached its contract with a former equity partner and owed him wages.
The jury awarded more than $231,000 for those two counts and treble damages against the largest law firm in Maryland, leaving plaintiff Donald E. English Jr. with a sigh of relief.
“I want to express my love and respect to Tonya Baña and Ken Ravenell who took on this case with no doubt and no fear. Their command of the law and the facts is exceptional,” English said after the verdict.
English, now a non-equity partner at Jackson Lewis PC in Baltimore, resigned from Baltimore-based Miles & Stockbridge PC last July after 13 years with the firm, the last four as equity principal. English claims that after he resigned Miles & Stockbridge reduced his salary and “clawed back” nearly $60,000 the firm had paid him, the lawsuit states. The firm also refused to pay English for his work on the last three days of the job as well as his salary and benefits through the end of the month and any prorated bonuses, according to the lawsuit.
Miles & Stockbridge is considering an appeal, the firm said.
“The simple fact is that Mr. English claimed more compensation than he was due under the terms of the agreements he signed when he became a stockholder and owner of Miles & Stockbridge. His obligations were fully outlined in his agreements with the firm and consistent with the law and long-standing practices for the firm’s owners and compensation practices in the profession,” the firm said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
But Baña hopes this case will serve as a warning to law firms about how they classify partners.
“You can call someone a partner, but if you’re going to treat him as an employee for federal employment law and income tax purposes, then you better be sure that you know that you have to comply with all the laws that protect employees,” Baña said.
“The frustrating part about this situation is that I know Miles & Stockbridge knows that. None of us are particularly thrilled about being here.”
Four equity principals who left Miles & Stockbridge in February as part of a group of 11 equity principals departing the firm to open Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP’s Baltimore office testified for English. They said they were owed their last paycheck and capital contribution.
“Several of our equity principals who accepted substantial draws before announcing their departure to Nelson Mullins gave testimony at the trial. The firm will resolve any outstanding issues with those principals in the time and manner provided for in their employment and shareholder agreements,” the firm said.
While she declined to elaborate on past settlement talks, Baña said English’s legal team “would’ve happily resolved this case months and months ago.”
The case went longer than everyone anticipated, largely due to the complexity of the evidence in the case.
“We’re grateful that we had a jury that was very attentive, really put the work in to try to understand what happened. It was a case that is deceptively complicated and we had a jury that was diligent and listened,” Baña said.
“They told us it would only be a five-day trial, but some of us thought we’d be out of there the same day,” said juror Paul Gerczak.
For the breach of contract charge, the jury wanted to give him another $68,000, but decided it was too much after awarding treble damages, Gerczak said.
“Twenty-five thousand dollars seemed like a nice even number,” he said.
Katherine Brzozowski contributed to this story.
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Donald E. English, Jr. vs Miles & Stockbridge PC
Court: Baltimore City Circuit
Case No.: 24C17004438
Judge: Audrey J.S. Carrion
Proceeding: Jury trial
Outcome: $68,786.52 in wages, $137,573.64 treble damages and $25,000 for breach of contract
Suit filed: Jan. 3, 2018
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Kenneth Ravenell and Tonya Baña, both Baltimore solo practitioners.
Defendants’ Attorneys: Ward B. Coe III and Mark S. Saudek, partners at Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP in Baltimore
Counts: wage theft and breach of contract