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Why have Quinn Emanuel & Manisha Sheth Launched the first BigLaw #MeToo Practice Group? | Episode 6



| Hosted by Teresa Barber, former IMS Director of Industry Relations

In this episode of the IMS Insights Podcast, we sit down with Quinn Emanuel Partner, Manisha Sheth, to explore what led her to return private practice in the firm to lead a #MeToo practice group, from public service in the New York Attorney General’s Office. Sheth, who served as lead attorney on one of the most high-profile cases during the residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) crisis now serves as Co-Chair of the firm’s Government and Regulatory Litigation Practice and its Sexual Harassment and Employment Discrimination Practice.

Teresa Barber: All right, so Manisha, thank you so much for joining us today on IMS Insights. Really happy to speak with you.

Manisha Sheth: It's great to be here. Thanks Teresa.

Teresa: We want to ask you a little bit about Quinn Emanuel's #MeToo practice. What precipitated Quinn Emanuel's decision to start a #MeToo practice?

Manisha: That's a great question. The #MeToo movement has shined a light on sexual harassment and gender based discrimination, and it has revealed over the course of the last few years that harassment and discrimination is not limited to particular sectors or industries and it's not a few isolated instances, but rather the harassment and discrimination is pervasive across all industries and all levels of the organization. And we've seen that more and more victims are feeling empowered to come forward with their experiences of such harassment and discrimination. And in many ways, that is having a domino effect that once the first victim comes forward, it results in many other victims, either the same perpetrator or at the same entity to follow. And we're seeing powers and numbers.

Manisha: We saw that we were at an inflection point in our society where such misconduct was more often coming to light and less willing to be tolerated by us as a society. We also saw that there was surprisingly no other firm in the Am Law 100 that was taking on these cases, on behalf of plaintiffs or victims and survivors. And so we felt this was an opportunity for us both from a business standpoint but also from a societal good standpoint to step in and really try to level the playing field for these victims.

Teresa: Quinn Emanuel is a very reputable global law firm. I'm curious, why do you think no other Am Law 100 firm has created a practice for defending victims of sexual harassment? Let me start that over.

Teresa: Quinn Emanuel is a, it's a global law firm, very reputable firm. Why do you think no other Am Law 100 firm has created a practice for defending victims of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination, Manisha?

Manisha: Yes. Well, from a legal perspective, these are challenging cases. Oftentimes, we see that victims may not be willing to pursue a legal remedy because that will involve in many cases the ability to go forward in a public space. Like filing a lawsuit is a public proceeding and there may be concerns about reputation and the embarrassment factor, and so victims may not be willing to go down that road.

Manisha: There's also issues with regards to statutes of limitations. In many instances, the misconduct or harassment happened many years ago and the case may be outside of the relevant statute of limitations. There may also be issues relating to evidence and proof. It often may be a case of he said, she said without many other witnesses or corroborating documents. So I think from a legal perspective, these are tough cases to bring and to win. But also from a business perspective, these representations might be riskier for the law firm and it could be argued that perhaps the safer course is to do internal investigations or compliance work on behalf of companies and organizations.

Manisha: And so what we saw here was a gap or a void in the market and an opportunity to fill it. And yes, it might be somewhat of a risky move, but we've been known to take risky moves in the past, especially with our practice litigating against the large financial institutions. And so we welcome that opportunity.

Teresa: That's interesting. I want to talk a little bit about your work with regional mortgage-backed securities cases. So you are the lead attorney on one of the largest RMBS cases during the housing crisis. You recently worked in government prosecution, supervising complex commercial litigate ... Start that over.

Teresa: I want to talk about that for a minute. You were lead attorney on one of the largest residential mortgage-backed securities cases during the housing crisis and recently have been working in government prosecution, supervising complex commercial investigations and enforcement actions in the New York attended New York Attorney General's office. How has your career prepared you to lead a #MeToo practice?

Manisha: I've spent the bulk of my career in private practice and in government service on plaintiff's side cases, and I was a federal criminal prosecutor and I also at the state level was a civil prosecutor. And from those experiences, I have learned how to efficiently investigate a case, how to put together a compelling narrative for a complaint and most importantly how to prove that case at trial with admissible evidence. And so I feel that my experience as a prosecutor has allowed me to not only build the cases, but skillfully interview witnesses and assess the credibility of witnesses, which is an important skill to have in this particular practice area.

Manisha: In addition, my experience in the private sector on behalf of plaintiffs, bringing plaintiff side litigation has really educated me across numerous industries about how businesses work and how their internal control processes work and the events at play within those companies that may have an impact on how complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination are handled.

Manisha: And most recently while I was at the New York Attorney General's office, I was involved in discussions about the most significant cases and high profile investigations in the office. And during my tenure, one of those cases was the Weinstein prosecution. That investigation was an important marker because I think it was a turning point in how companies can now be held accountable for the conduct of their executives and their employees. And if companies had knowledge of complaints about harassment or discrimination and failed to do anything about those complaints, whether it's failing to investigate or take corrective action, they could be held accountable and held liable for those failures.

Teresa: That's interesting. In kind of thinking about it back into context of the #MeToo movement and this new #MeToo practice with Quinn Emanuel, what do you think that's going to mean for the future of sexual harassment cases?

Manisha: Well, I think as I mentioned, I think the entry of Quinn Emanuel will level the playing field. For one, no other firm has the deep bench of trial lawyers and former prosecutors that we have or the experience in high-stakes plaintiff side litigation, as well as our intimate knowledge of the defense side issues that are likely to arise in these employment cases. Because we're well familiar with the defense side playbook in these cases because of our experience handling employment litigation on the defense side.

Manisha: In addition, I think we bring to the table a credible threat of going to trial. We know, our lawyers, our partners know how to try cases. We're willing to try the tough cases and that often has resulted in very favorable settlements for our clients.

Manisha: Finally, I would note that recently, for a number of years, we have been recognized as one of the four most feared law firms in the world based on a recent survey of companies. And many of our clients have witnessed what they call the Quinn Emanuel effect, where the other side will often throw in the towel early once we surface in a case. I think these skills and experiences and reputation will allow us to get favorable and early resolutions for our clients.

Teresa: That's interesting. And it sounds like it could be catalytic for victims of #MeToo crimes. How would you kind of frame what you perceive as the difficulties that victims of #MeToo crimes face right now or have currently faced, recently faced obtaining justice through the legal system?

Manisha: Right. Well, in addition to the statute of limitations and evidentiary issues we discussed, there's also the business consequences of coming forward. So consequences with regard to current employment, and that would include fear of retaliation from the company, fear of being phased out or ostracized or intimidated or even smear campaigns against the victim who came forward. And then with regard to consequences relating to future employment, the victim may be viewed as a troublemaker or a problematic employee and it may result in difficulty, serious difficulties getting hired with regard to future employment.

Manisha: The other area where we're seeing some issues and challenges is with regard to the intersectionality of socioeconomic status and race. We're seeing both anecdotal as well as studies in the academia that it is oftentimes more difficult for victims who are in lower socioeconomic, who have lower socioeconomic status or minorities from coming forward. It's interesting to look at the contrast between the incidents of sexual harassment and discrimination among those groups and their willingness to come forward and report such misconduct and then seek legal remedies for such misconduct.

Teresa: Thank you, Manisha. How would you say Quinn Emanuel's #MeToo practice will provide a different legal experience and maybe even a better outcome for victims than previously? And what would you say benefits could be of creating this practice group?

Manisha: Yes, so the practice group I think lends a lot of advantages. For one, we have a dedicated group of attorneys who are focused on representing victims of sexual harassment and discrimination in both the workplace setting as well as in the higher educational setting. And these attorneys are seasoned trial lawyers, former federal prosecutors, experienced in plaintiff's side litigation, and or employment litigation.

Manisha: In addition, the practice group gives us a structure for sharing that knowledge, that experience and those strategies in these kinds of cases. It also allows us to identify opportunities to grow the practice by mining existing context, but also developing new ones, and most importantly dividing the workload necessary to launch and develop this practice, which we're pretty much doing from scratch so it has been a very time intensive labor, but certainly a labor of love.

Teresa: Sure. Sounds like an exciting challenge.

Manisha: It is.

Teresa: What about industry groups and nonprofits and those relationships that you're able to bring to bear? How important are those and what role do they play?

Manisha: That's a great question. These organizations, both nonprofits and industry groups have been immersed in these kinds of cases, sexual harassment and discrimination cases for many years, much longer than the time that we've launched. And they are the ones who are on the front lines in terms of being the first point of contact with the victim. They're also very well versed in policy and regulatory developments as well as challenges that these victims may face. And so we have found that it's critical for us to develop and grow these relationships with industry groups as well as nonprofits, both as a means of getting the word out that Quinn Emanuel has entered this space, but also because it will help us to learn the issues and the challenges in bringing these kinds of sexual harassment and discrimination matters.

Manisha: And we're getting a sense of it from a multidimensional perspective. So not just from the litigation context, but also in the context of policy and regulation as well. In this vein, we have met up with leadership at multiple organizations, including Time's Up, the National Women's Law Center, the Model Alliance, JDoe, and we're continuing to meet with other organizations as we develop this practice.