Debra S. Katz's Notable Case Successes

 
Charlotte Bennett (2021)
Debra Katz is representing Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo who accused the governor of sexual harassment. Ms. Bennett was an executive assistant and health policy advisor in the Governor’s administration until her departure in November 2020. During her time in Albany, Governor Cuomo made unwelcome sexual advances to Ms. Bennett, asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she had ever had sex with older men after declaring that he was looking for a girlfriend and would have a relationship with a woman older than 22. Ms. Bennett is 25 years old. Ms. Bennett reported the sexual harassment to the Governor's Chief of Staff and Special Counsel, who failed to act on her well-documented allegations or take any type of remedial action.
 
Janet Herold (2021)
Debra Katz and Alexis Ronickher represented Janet Herold, a senior attorney at the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), with her whistleblower complaint against then-Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia.
In 2012, Ms. Herold was appointed as Regional Solicitor for the Western Region, DOL’s largest enforcement region, and quickly earned a reputation as a dedicated and effective advocate for workers’ rights. Over the last few years, Ms. Herold led the trial team in the largest wage discrimination suit prosecuted by the federal government.  DOL alleged that Oracle, a federal contractor, violated anti-discrimination laws by systemically underpaying women, Asian-American and African-American employees by up to 30%.
Eugene Scalia was appointed Secretary of Labor in September 2019, and according to Ms. Herold’s complaint, broke with departmental practice, intervened in settlement discussions with Oracle, and abused his power as Secretary. While a government expert witness calculated the back pay owed to workers at $300-$800 million, an unnamed Labor Department official claimed that prior to trial, Ms. Herold informed him that she was informed that Secretary Scalia aimed to settle the case for less than $40 million.
Oracle has a history with the Trump administration – its Chief Executive Safra Catz was a member of the Trump transition team, and its Executive Chairman Larry Ellison was a public supporter of President Trump, including hosting high-dollar fundraisers for him.
After Ms. Herold objected to his improper actions, Secretary Scalia sought to reassign her to a job in Chicago with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a position for which she was not qualified and which did not involve legal work.
On August 7, 2020, Ms. Herold filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (“OSC”), the federal agency charged with investigating retaliation against federal employees, alleging that the reassignment was in retaliation for Ms. Herold’s objection to Secretary Scalia’s improper actions, as well as her vigorous enforcement of federal laws protecting workers. 
Finding “reasonable grounds” that the reassignment was unlawful, OSC repeatedly requested that DOL take no action until it had completed its investigation.  DOL, however, terminated Ms. Herold on January 11, 2021, in the waning days of the Trump Administration and prior to OSC completing its investigation.
On February 10, 2021, DOL reinstated Ms. Herold as Regional Solicitor for the Western Region.
 
Dr. Rick Bright (2020)
Debra Katz represents Dr. Rick Bright, a federal scientist who served as director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until his involuntary removal in April 2020.
In a whistleblower complaint filed with the Office of Special Counsel, Dr. Bright charged that he was removed from his position in retaliation for his insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit.   He further charged that he clashed repeatedly with HHS political leadership because of his resistance to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections and he limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the Trump Administration as a panacea.  The Trump Administration, over Dr. Bright’s objections, demanded that New York and New Jersey be “flooded” with these drugs, which were imported from factories in Pakistan and India that had not been inspected by the FDA.  Dr. Bright rightly resisted efforts to provide these drugs which lacked scientific merit on demand to the American public and insisted that they be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19 while under the supervision of a physician. These drugs have potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality demonstrated in some recent studies in patients with COVID-19.  Dr. Bright also raised dire and urgent concerns beginning in January of 2020, about the nation’s lack of critical supplies necessary to combat COVID-19, such as masks, respirators, and swabs. Thereafter, HHS political leadership retaliated against Dr. Bright.  On May 14th, Dr. Bright testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee.
On May 8th, three days after Dr. Bright filed his complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, the OSC found "reasonable grounds to believe" that that the administration was retaliating against Bright, and recommended that Dr. Bright be reinstated pending the outcome of its investigation into his retaliation claim.
 
Dawn Dunning (2020)
Debra Katz represented Dawn Dunning, who testified against Harvey Weinstein criminal trial in February, 2020.
Dunning, a former aspiring actress, testified that after she met Weinstein in the early 2000s, they formed a relationship that she believed would help her career. However, under the guise of business meetings, Weinstein prepositioned Dunning for sex and sexually assaulted her.
Weinstein was not criminally charged in connection with Dunning’s allegations – but her testimony was used by the prosecution to show a pattern of behavior. 
In March, 2020, Weinstein was found guilty of criminal sexual assault in the first degree and rape in the third degree.
 
Kellee Kim (2019)
Ms. Katz represented Kellee Kim in her matter with CBS. Ms. Kim made headlines when she was voted off “Survivor” after reporting unwanted and inappropriate touching by another contestant, Dan Spilo, in a direct-to-camera interview during the show. Although CBS subsequently issued a “formal warning” to Mr. Spilo, it allowed him to remain in the competition. Ms. Kim was voted off the show later in that same episode, due in part to other contestants’ manipulation of her report to producers. It was not until several episodes later, following another incident of inappropriate touching, that CBS finally removed Mr. Spilo from the competition.
KMB represented Ms. Kim in her efforts to speak openly about her experience of sexual harassment on the “Survivor” season finale.  During the season finale Jeff Probst, Game Show Host, apologized to Ms. Kim for CBS’s failure to take appropriate action to protect her from the unwelcome touching.  CBS also announced that it would implement new policies and procedures to better protect crew and contestants from harassment and discrimination in the future, action that Ms. Kim demanded that CBS undertake.
 
Patricia Wulf, Angela Turner Wilson, and other Placido Domingo Accusers (2019)
Debra Katz represents Patricia Wulf, the first woman to come forward publicly with information detailing the sexual harassment she was subjected to by opera star Placido Domingo, and Angela Turner Wilson, another professional singer with similar allegations regarding Domingo. In interviews with the Associated Press and National Public Radio, Ms. Wulf detailed Domingo’s repeated unwelcome sexual advances and propositions that created a sexually hostile work environment for women. 
Wulf and Wilson’s courage in attaching their names to their accusations ultimately resulted in other women coming forward, which in turn led to Domingo withdrawing from his Met Opera performances and submitting his resignation as the director of the Los Angeles Opera. Domingo has now either withdrawn from or been removed from all scheduled performances with U.S. opera companies, and several in Europe.
In February, it was reported that the American Guild of Musical Artists reached a deal in which it would limit the union’s comments about the investigation into Domingo, and Domingo would pay the union $500,000. The deal fell apart after details were made publicized by Associated Press.  Domingo has since withdrawn from AGMA.
 
Harvard University (2019)
Debra Katz represents four women who accused former Harvard University Government professor Jorge Dominguez of sexually harassing them between 1979 and 2006. Dominguez was a high-profile Latin American scholar who held multiple prominent administrative positions at Harvard, including Vice Provost for International Affairs. 
In February 2018, the Chronicle of Higher Education published KMB’s clients’ accounts of sexual harassment by Dominguez and later reported that at least 18 women had come forward with similar allegations. The articles prompted Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences to place Dominguez on administrative leave and Dominguez announced his intention to retire days later.
Harvard’s Title IX Office launched an investigation into Dominguez’s behavior in March 2018 and, in May 2019, found that Dominguez had engaged in “unwelcome sexual conduct toward several individuals, on multiple occasions over a period spanning nearly four decades.” The University subsequently stripped Dominguez of his emeritus status and barred him from the FAS campus.
 
Vanessa Tyson (2019)
Debra Katz represents Professor Vanessa Tyson, who in February 2019 alleged that Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004.
Following Tyson’s decision to go public with her story, Fairfax has utilized an aggressive approach to try to paint Ms. Tyson as a liar. Throughout the entire ordeal, Ms. Katz has been in contact with Virginia state government officials over attempts to hold a hearing to give Ms. Tyson an opportunity to tell her testify publicly about Lieutenant Governor Fairfax’s sexual assault of her.
 
Sheila Katz (2019)
Debra Katz represented Sheila Katz, a former executive at Hillel International, in reporting allegations of sexual harassment regarding billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt. Sheila Katz was one of several former Hillel employees who spoke to The New York Times about Steinhardt’s sexual harassment of her – including asking for sex – while the organization was dependent on and asking for his financial support. Steinhardt’s harassment was persistent, and regularly excused due to his money and influence.
In 2018 Hillel hired the law firm Cozen O’Connor to investigate Ms. Katz’s claims. They concluded that Steinhardt had in fact sexually harassed Sheila Katz and another employee. KMB represented her during the course of the investigation and in communications with the media.
 
Christine Blasey Ford (2018)
Debra Katz, Lisa Banks, and Joseph Abboud represented Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in proceedings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2018.  Dr. Ford testified about then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault of her in the early 1980s when they were teenagers.
Ms. Banks worked to ensure that Dr. Ford was able to testify in an open hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and to protect Dr. Ford against malicious and bad faith attacks that attempted to twist the facts of the case and to discredit her. She prepared Dr. Ford for the testimony she gave in front of the entire country and were her public representatives and spokespeople.
Dr. Ford’s testimony had a significant impact on the country.  A year after the shocking allegations against Harvey Weinstein surfaced, the image of Dr. Ford raising her right hand became the iconic photo of the #MeToo movement. Her testimony has inspired hundreds of thousands of victims to tell their stories of assault for the first time.
Ultimately, Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, but Dr. Ford’s testimony was a trailblazing moment that gave voice to millions of survivors of sexual violence and further highlighted the nationwide reckoning that had emerged on the issue of sexual violence in the #MeToo era. 
 
Michelle Manning Barish (2018)
Debra Katz represents Michelle Manning Barish, who went public with allegations of physical and emotional abuse by former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman while they were in a romantic relationship.
Ms. Barish was one of two women to speak on the record to The New Yorker for its exposé about Schneiderman’s abuse.  In it, she described his pattern of committing physical abuse with a sexual partner, including choking and slapping, as well as engaging in threats and emotional abuse.
KMB advised Ms. Barish through the intense media coverage that accompanied The New Yorker story. Just hours after publication of the article, Schneiderman resigned his position as Attorney General of New York. KMB continues to represent Ms. Barish in ongoing governmental inquiries.
In April 2021, Schneiderman admitted to violating the rules of professional conduct, including committing physical, verbal, and emotional abuse against Ms. Barish. As a result of his wrongdoing, Schneiderman lost his license to practice law for a year.  
 
Julian Craig v. Veritas of Washington (2018)
Debra Katz represents Julian Craig, the former Chief Medical Officer of United Medical Center, in his whistleblower retaliation and wrongful discharge lawsuit against the hospital and its management consultants.
Dr. Craig oversaw all clinical operations for the southeast D.C. hospital, where he witnessed unsafe and fraudulent practices being implemented by Veritas of Washington, a consulting firm contracted to manage the hospital. In November 2017, Dr. Craig testified at a D.C. Council hearing on health about “malfeasance affecting patient health and safety” and about Veritas executives’ “submission of fraudulent statements to Medicare and Medicaid.”
In the weeks following Dr. Craig’s testimony, the D.C. Council announced that it would not renew Veritas’s contract, with some council members explicitly citing Dr. Craig’s testimony as a determining factor for their vote.
Veritas then fired Dr. Craig, prompting KMB to file a whistleblower lawsuit against the consulting firm and its executives in February 2018.
While under direction by Veritas, the hospital experienced three patient deaths, including the death of a man who died of a heart attack at UMC’s nursing facility after falling out of bed and yelling for help, only to receive delayed and negligent care from a registered nurse. Regulators also closed the nursery and delivery rooms after a pregnant woman died while in care, and conditions at the facility were deemed unsafe. Dr. Craig’s courageous actions potentially saved lives by ending Veritas’s management of the hospital.
 
Chloe Caras (2018)
Debra Katz represented Chloe Caras, a former restaurant manager and director of operations for Isabella Eatery, in her sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against celebrity chef Mike Isabella, his company, and four of his business partners.
Ms. Caras was forced to endure sexual harassment and abuse by restaurant management, including Mr. Isabella, and was then fired when she objected to this hostile treatment. Ms. Caras was subjected to sexist comments, sexual propositions, inappropriate physical contact and other instances of harassment and abuse.
In addition to filing a harassment and retaliation lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Caras, KMB called for the federal court to nullify the nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that Mike Isabella Concepts had employees sign as a condition of employment. These NDAs were imposed to prevent any information about Isabella or other partners’ business lives from being made public. KMB and Ms. Caras alleged that these overly restrictive NDAs were meant to intimidate employees into remaining silent, even when they witnessed sexual harassment by partners or other employees. Bringing attention to such broad and punitive NDAs was critical to informing employees of their rights, including the right to report illegal activity regardless of any confidentiality agreement they may have signed.
The lawsuit was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount of money, and required that Mike Isabella Concepts take corrective measures, including sexual harassment training and other policies to ensure a safe and comfortable workplace.  Read the Post’s coverage of the settlement here.
 
Irwin Reiter (2017)
Debra Katz represents Irwin Reiter who, as a longtime Weinstein Company executive, served as one of the critical whistleblowers in the Harvey Weinstein scandal.  Reiter, an accountant at The Weinstein Company, was recently identified by New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in their book, She Said, as the “insider” who provided them with information that was crucial to their ability to break the story about Weinstein’s decades-long sexual predation and harassment.  Among other acts of courage, Reiter divulged to Kantor and Twohey an internal memo that detailed Weinstein’s routine sexual harassment of younger employees and actresses.  This information proved critical to their investigation into Weinstein which helped spark the #MeToo movement. 
KMB has represented Mr. Reiter since the late summer of 2017.  In the past year, KMB has assisted Mr. Reiter with providing information to state and federal law enforcement about Weinstein’s conduct, and with proceedings related to The Weinstein Company’s bankruptcy filing in mid-2018.
 
Feminists Majority Foundation v. University of Mary Washington (2017)
Debra Katz, Carolyn Wheeler, and Joseph Abboud represented members of the University of Mary Washington student group, Feminist United on Campus, who were subject to student-on-student cyber harassment that included death threats and threats of sexual assault. In 2015, students and women’s rights organizations filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the university failed to take appropriate action in response to threats of sexual assault and cyber-harassment against students on the anonymous messaging app, Yik Yak. The university claimed that it could not take any steps to protect students out of fear that it might violate the harassers’ free speech rights.
On December 19, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision holding that universities were responsible under Title IX for protecting students from this type of online sexual harassment. The court held that the university could not “turn a blind eye” to the egregious sexual harassment that pervaded its campus simply because the harassment took place in “cyberspace.”
The Fourth Circuit also held for the first time that students at public universities have a constitutional right to an educational environment free from student-on-student sexual harassment. This ruling sends a strong message to administrators at public universities that they could be individually liable if they fail to take appropriate action in response to student complaints of sexual harassment.
 
University of Colorado, Boulder (2014)
Katz, Marshall & Banks partners Debra Katz and Lisa Banks brought a Title IX claim on behalf of a graduate student at the University of Colorado alleging retaliation. KMB alleged that CU-Boulder violated Title IX by exposing the student to a sexually hostile academic environment and to retaliation by a tenured Professor in the Department after her Title IX claims were validated by the University’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment. The case settled for $850,000 plus various non-monetary provisions, including a public statement from the University Chancellor stating that settling the claims was "the right thing to do."
 
Gordon v. ArmorGroup, No. 1:10cv002 (JCC), 2010 WL 3418219 (E.D. Va. Aug. 27, 2010)
Employee brought suit under the False Claims Act alleging that his employer used him to unwittingly mislead the State Department in regard to information relating to a security contract his employer had entered into with the Department of State to provide security services at the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Court denied employer’s motion for summary judgment concluding that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to the continued nature and duration of the allegedly illegal acts employee was requested and required to participate in, thereby precluding summary judgment in an action alleging constructive termination under the False Claims Act.
 
United States of America ex rel. James Gordon v. ArmorGroup North America, 1:09-cv-01547-RCL 
In July 2011, ArmorGroup North America and its affiliates paid $7.5 million to resolve allegations that AGNA submitted false claims for payment on a State Department contract to provide armed guard services at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The settlement resolves U.S. claims that in 2007 and 2008, AGNA guards violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) by visiting brothels in Kabul, and that AGNA’s management knew about the guards’ activities. The settlement resolves a whistleblower suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under seal by James Gordon against AGNA, ArmorGroup International plc, G4S plc and Wackenhut Services Inc. under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act.
 
Barrett v. Chreky, 634 F.Supp.2d 33 (D.D.C. 2009)
Jury in the District Court for the District of Columbia awarded Ronnie Barrett $300,000 in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages in her sexual harassment and retaliation suit against Andre Chreky and the Andre Chreky Salon, one of the top-rated salons in Washington, D.C.  Mr. Chreky was the hairdresser to former First Lady Laura Bush.  Ms. Barrett was a former hair colorist at the salon.
 
Wynne v. Birach, 2009 WL 3672119 (E.D. Va. 2009)
Default judgment in the amount of $1,566,666 awarded against defendant in a suit for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy under the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia and breach of contract. Plaintiff alleged that she was forced into a constructive discharge as a result of the defendant subjecting her to severe and pervasive sexual harassment and directing her to submit false statements to a lending institution).
 
Speegle v. Stone & Webster, ARB Case No. 06-041 (Sept. 24, 2009)
ARB issues an important victory for nuclear workers in the nuclear power industry. Speegle alleged that he was terminated in 2004 for blowing the whistle on nuclear safety lapses at TVA’s Browns Ferry nuclear power plant. The ARB decision reinforced the rights of nuclear workers to speak out about safety issues without fear of retaliation.
 
Capitol Tunnel Workers v. Architect of the Capitol
Complaint filed under the Congressional Accountability Act with the Office of Compliance on behalf of ten U.S. Capitol tunnel workers. Ms. Katz, along with Mr. Marshall who served as lead counsel, successfully represented ten U.S. Capitol tunnel workers in a whistleblower retaliation complaint against the Architect of the Capitol. The workers charged the Architect with harassing and threatening them after they alerted Congress in March 2006 to the life-threatening levels of asbestos and other hazards they faced while working in the utility tunnels that run beneath the U.S. Capitol. In June 2007, the workers and the Architect agreed to a substantial out-of-court settlement that was later approved by the Congressional Office of Compliance.
 
Blanton v. Biogen Idec, Inc., Case No. 2006-SOX-4, DOL OALJ (April 18, 2006)
In a whistleblower case brought under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Debra Katz successfully defeated a motion for a protective order filed by the defendant to prevent the plaintiff from deposing Biogen Idec’s CEO, James Mullen. Mr. Blanton alleged that the Boston-based pharmaceutical fired its chief reimbursement expert in retaliation for complaints about illegal kickbacks to physicians.
 
Roger Barnes v. Fannie Mae (October 2004)
The Securities and Exchange Commission confirmed allegations made by Roger Barnes, a former Fannie Mae accounting manager, that the mortgage-finance giant cooked its books and retaliated against him for complaining about it.  The SEC further concluded that Fannie Mae manipulated its earnings through "cookie jar" accounting and order Fannie Mae to restate its earnings.  As a result of Mr. Barnes' disclosures, Fannie Mae's management team, including Fannie Mae’s CEO and other top executives, were removed from their positions.   Ultimately, Fannie Mae's restatement of earnings was one of the largest in U.S. history.  Additionally, Barnes received a sizable settlement.
 
Bowles v. National Ass’n of Home Builders, 224 F.R.D. 246 (D.D.C. 2004)
Waiver of attorney-client and work-product by defendants relating to our client’s claims of tortious interference with contract and civil conspiracy to cause wrongful termination. Bowles, formerly President of the NAHB Research Center alleged that the Center, a wholly-owned subsidiary of NAHB, terminated her at the behest of NAHB and its officers because she refused to sign a License Agreement demanded by NAHB for the sole purpose of reducing the aggregate taxes paid by NAHB and its subsidiary entities. Under the terms demanded, the Center would be required to make annual royalty payments to NAHB of five percent (5%) of its gross revenues in exchange for the Center’s continued use of its own trade name, “NAHB Research Center.” Bowles objected, upon advice of counsel, noting that the IRS would likely view the License Agreement as a fraudulent attempt to evade taxes.
 
Estes v. Georgetown University, 231 F. Supp. 279 (D.D.C. 2002)
Jury verdict of $250,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages for claims of sex discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation.
 
Riggs v. Home Builders Institute, 203 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 2002)
Former Congressman Frank Riggs filed suit against the Home Builders Institute alleging that it terminated his employment solely because he refused to participate in activities prohibited by federal tax laws and Department of Labor regulations and because he insisted that HBI comply with federal tax laws. District Court held that the complaint properly stated a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy under District of Columbia law.