Jan 17, 2023 - News

Scandal exposes toxic cultures at some Cleveland law firms

Illustration of a red mug separated from a group of white mugs.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

The intemperate text message from Jon Dileno, who until last Tuesday was a senior attorney at Cleveland law firm Zashin & Rich, has sent shockwaves through the local legal community.

Catch up fast: Dileno lashed out at a female colleague when she resigned and joined another firm shortly after her maternity leave.

  • In his message to her, Dileno characterized parental leave as "collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your ass" and threatened to tell "anyone who inquires" that she was "soul-less and morally bankrupt."
  • The text was shared with attorney Kelley Barnett, who published it without attribution on LinkedIn to draw attention to cultural toxicity at corporate law firms.
  • Dileno later confirmed to Cleveland.com that he'd sent the text.

Driving the news: "In light of the recent events," the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association decided to host a "Hot Talk" panel today on employment leave policies and "the intersection (and clash) of employer and employee expectations."

What they're saying: "The events of the past week have given rise to significant debate about what's legal, ethical and/or fair in the workplace," said CMBA CEO Rebecca Ruppert McMahon. "We hope to create a dialogue that will offer clarity to both employees and employers leading to better work environments for all."

Meanwhile, Zashin & Rich has come under fire for its response to the controversy.

Details: In an initial statement last week, managing partner Stephen Zashin said Dileno's text was sent "in the heat of the moment."

The other side: "Maybe you can get away with "heat of the moment" over a phone call, but someone initiated a text conversation, typed a bunch of characters, and edited that message," wrote Joe Patrice in the legal publication Above the Law. "That's not heat of the moment, that's a sustained lack of professional judgment."

Hours later, Zashin & Rich released another statement announcing that Dileno was no longer employed by the firm.

Of note: Dileno counted the City of Cleveland among his clients in the arena of labor and employment law.

  • In a statement, the city told Axios that it expects its vendors to "act appropriately and have policies that are supportive of working environments that are diverse, equitable, inclusive and fair."

Yes, but: The City of Cleveland itself doesn't provide parental leave to its employees.

The bottom line: Among some attorneys who reacted online and whom Axios , Dileno's text was regarded not as a contradiction of Cleveland's corporate law culture but as a revealing case in point, and women in particular said they were fed up.


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