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Top Employment Firm Hired By ex-Lehman Workers Seeking Class Action

November 5, 2008 4:04 PM
Posted by Brian Baxter

New York’s Raisner Roupinian LLP, which once won a landmark discrimination suit against Morgan Stanley, is representing a putative class of plaintiffs suing Lehman Brothers for alleged violations of federal employment law after the investment bank’s bankruptcy filing on September 15.

In a 10-page complaint filed in U.S. bankruptcy court in Manhattan on Tuesday, former Lehman computer programmer Miron Berenshteyn alleges that he was fired on September 9 and promised 60 days of pay under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act of 1989.

But by October 3, several weeks after Lehman went bankrupt, payments to Berenshteyn stopped. According to the complaint, Berenshteyn filed the suit on behalf of 100 other similarly situated former Lehman employees in New Jersey and Manhattan, whose claims exceed $5 million.

Like Berenshteyn, the group claims they were let go by Lehman prior to the company’s filing for Chapter 11, yet payments ceased soon after the company went bankrupt and far before the 60-day period mandated by the WARN Act expired. And plaintiffs counsel say that the number of former Lehman employees affected could end up being significantly more than 100.

“You see 100 in the complaint because it’s the jurisdictional amount needed under the WARN Act, but news coverage at the time [of the layoffs] mentioned nearly 1,000 people in this group,” says Raisner Roupinian LLP partner Jack Raisner (above). “So that number remains to be supplied to us by the debtor.”

Plaintiffs are seeking a full 60 days of wages and benefits along with severance pay of one week’s wages for each year an employee worked at Lehman. Raisner says future proceedings will occur before U.S. bankruptcy judge James Peck as the former employees are considered creditors in the bankruptcy arena. It will be up to Peck, Raisner says, to determine what level of hierarchy they are in the (no pun intended) pecking order of creditors.

Raisner says that he will try to position the plaintiffs’ wage claims at the top of the heap, so that they’ll come away with full value instead of the pennies on the dollar left for unsecured creditors. But that decision will be up to Peck, who will also need to certify a class if Lehman’s lawyers don’t stipulate to one.

“There’s no reason to contest class certification here, everyone was cut on the same side and treated the same way,” Raisner says. “In most of our cases the debtor stipulates, but if it’s contested then we’ll go the judge for a determination.”

Raisner Roupinian LLP is no stranger to securing big sums from Wall Street firms.

Name partner Wayne Raisner and several other lawyers from the noted employment firm represented Allison Schieffelin, a former employee in Morgan Stanley’s institutional equity division, who served as lead plaintiff in a discrimination suit against the company that settled for $54 million in 2004. Morgan Stanley also agreed to earmark $2 million for future diversity training initiatives.

Delaware solo practitioner Christopher Loizides is serving as bankruptcy counsel to the plaintiffs, which are also being represented by Raisner Roupinian LLP of counsel René Roupinian.