DoL Settles Tiff over Email Harassment

November 16, 2004 ( - Department of Labor (DoL) Secretary Elaine Chou has halted her efforts to get a protection order against a law firm that allegedly sent her threatening emails.

>The firm – Marcus, Clegg and Mistretta of Portland – had been involved in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, in which a firm, Crowe Rope Industries, was having problems meeting both its legal bills and its employee health care claims, according to the Bangor Daily News. The emails were part of a feud over whether the law firm should be forced to pay back some of the $350,000 in fees it had been paid in order to pay for employee claims.

>The Labor Department has been investigating Crown Rope for possible Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) violations regarding the management of its health plans. In August, the DoL asked a federal bankruptcy judge to order the law firm to return some of the fees so that the employees’ health care claims could be paid for, citing numerous precedents set by other cases, according to the Daily News.

>The law firm, not surprisingly, disagreed with the disgorgement request. The law firm requested proof of the claims, demanding numerous types of documentation. Following their refusal, an email exchange occurred, in which improper remarks were made, according to the DoL.

“It appears clear to me that you are set on your path and have no desire to talk about any consensual resolution of disgorgement issues,” wrote Kelly Lawson, DoL Attorney, on Nov. 4. She also stated that the court would decide the ultimate scenario.

“I think that you have finally got it in that MCM (the law firm) will never agree to pay even 1 penny to settle the DOL’s very infirm disgorgement motion. On second thought, we will agree to pay one penny (I have an extra one in my pocket and I hate pennies),” a member of the law firm responded, according to the Daily News. “I am going to work you to the bone between now and the trial in 4-6 weeks. You might even be working on Thanksgiving Day just to respond to MCM’s discovery. I hope that you can run on less than 3 hours sleep per night like me because you are not going to get much of it between now and trial. Simply put, you have a loser of a case and MCM is going to kill it once and for all! (36 exclamation points). Now prepare for the battle of a lifetime (17 exclamation points).”

>On November 8, the DoL filed for a protection order from harassment, according to the Daily News. However, on Monday, attorneys from both sides said that they had settled the argument, and that some of the fees would be returned.