Law firm specializing in family and employment fires partner who berated female colleague in text

Law firm specializing in family and employment issues fires partner who texted female colleague berating her for ‘collecting a salary while sitting on your ass’ then resigning on her return

  • Zashin & Rich confirmed Tuesday that partner Jon Dileno had been dismissed
  • Dileno’s text criticizes the colleague for accepting another job after returning from maternity leave
  • The text was widely shared on social media and has sparked conversations within the legal community

A law firm in Cleveland fired one of its attorney’s after he sent a text message criticizing a colleague for leaving the firm after her maternity leave.

Zashin & Rich, a firm specializing in workplace and family law, confirmed in a LinkedIn post on Tuesday that it had terminated the contract of partner Jon Dileno.

According to a screenshot shared online, the text in question read in part: ‘What you did — collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your ass, except to find time to interview for another job — says everything one needs to know about your character.’

Dileno said his former colleague was ‘soul-less and morally bankrupt’ for accepting another job after she returned from maternity leave.  

Pictured: Zashin & Rich, a firm specialzing in workplace and family law

Pictured: Zashin & Rich, a firm specialzing in workplace and family law

The text message sent by Jon Dileno

The text message sent by Jon Dileno

Co-managing partner Stephen Zashin released a statement on Tuesday that called the text ‘inappropriate and unprofessional’. 

He wrote: ‘That single text was sent in the heat of the moment by an employee upset by the belief that the former colleague, while on paid leave, sought employment with another law firm,’ Zashin’s statement said. 

‘Within days of her return to work, she took that new job.

‘That’s not an excuse for the offending text, which should not have been sent. That single text has prompted some to question our commitment to fair treatment, diversity and other values that our firm holds dear and believes in fervently.’

Zashin’s statement said the firm taking pride in its focus on supporting working parents, allowing for tailored work schedules and offering open-ended paid leave for child care.

‘We are taking a purposeful look at our culture and what may need to change,’ the statement said. 

‘While we cannot undo the past, we can change the future. We are committed to turning this negative into a positive.’

A statement posted on LinkedIn by co-managing partner Stephen Zashin on Tuesday

A statement posted on LinkedIn by co-managing partner Stephen Zashin on Tuesday

In a further statement posted on LinkedIn later on Tuesday, Zashin said that the firm made the decision to fire Dileno after discussions with its team members and clients.

Zashin wrote: ‘This has been a sad and challenging time for our firm. I apologize to my former colleague who received the inappropriate text and I am disappointed that this happened on my watch.’

He added: ‘I said in a previous statement that Zashin & Rich committed to turning this negative into a positive and I feel this commitment even more strongly today.’

The social media post, which did not name Dileno, has sparked conversations in the legal community 

Dileno told the news outlet Cleveland.com that he had sent the text, which was later shared widely on social media, and admitted that his message had been ‘inappropriate and disrespectful,’ according to its report on Tuesday.

Another attorney, Kelley Barnett, wrote about the text message in a LinkedIn post on Tuesday, noting that that its recipient (who has not been named) had shared it with her.

Barnett wrote that the recipient had given her permission to post the message, but didn’t reveal the identity of the attorney who shared it, describing her only as a female associate who received the text earlier this month.

Another attorney, Kelley Barnett, wrote about the text message in a LinkedIn post on Tuesday

Another attorney, Kelley Barnett, wrote about the text message in a LinkedIn post on Tuesday

Barnett wrote that the incident demonstrates some of the enduring forms of discrimination that women in the legal profession still face, and urged law firms to address the true workplace culture behind the ‘words and pictures on firm websites and marketing material’.

‘It’s defined by the boots-on-the-ground reality taking place in firm halls, offices and conference rooms,’ Barnett wrote.

The post had received more than 2,000 comments, with many sharing their own stories of mistreatment at large firms.

Dileno has worked as a chief negotiator representing cities and local governments in contract talks, including the city of Cleveland, according to his biography on the firm’s website.

He has also defended the city in lawsuits, including in a retaliation lawsuit brought by former Cleveland fire battalion chief Sean DeCrane that lasted nearly six years.

The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association criticized the text message amid what it called the ‘growing outrage’. 

‘Yesterday, the text heard around our community and then the nation showed us how women continue to face discrimination from some within the legal profession,’ said the statement from the group’s president, Adrian Thompson, and its CEO, Becky Rupert McMahon. 

‘We have said before and again reaffirm today: Bias has no place in our profession or in a society built on the rule of law.’

The bar association was inundated with messages from outraged attorneys demanding action, the statement said. 

‘First and foremost, we offer our support for the woman who received the indefensible text,’ the statement said. 

‘Second, we condemn bias, both conscious and unconscious, and call on our entire legal community to affirmatively do the same.’

The bar association said it will host a free session on January 17 that will explore legal and ethical issues related to the text.

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