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Office Holiday Party Shenanigans Keep Lawyers Busy Well into February

Apparently “close dancing” is plenty reason to sue.

Holiday parties keep Debra Katz busy through the winter.

The tree ornaments have been boxed up, but the holiday season is a gift that’s still giving for Washington employment lawyers. “We will definitely get deluged with calls,” says Debra Katz, a founding partner at Katz, Marshall & Banks, where she represents people suing employers. “I would say at least a dozen calls in the next couple weeks.”

Why? Because of what sometimes goes down at holiday parties. Sexual-harassment claims, fistfights, and run-of-the-mill drunkenness have traditionally led to work for Katz and other members of the employment bar in the new year. Already, Katz has heard from a client who says her boss tried to engage her in “close dancing” at their work party.

Lawyers who defend companies against employee lawsuits also benefit after the holidays. Edward Lee Isler, name partner at Isler Dare Ray Radcliffe & Connolly, says that even before employees complain, companies will sometimes call him to do damage control in anticipation of possible legal trouble. Says Isler: “I had a case once where a guy got pretty drunk at a Christmas party and jumped up on a table and mooned the crowd. I heard about that right away.”

Most sexual-harassment and other claims against employers are handled out of court. But occasionally one makes it to litigation, as in 1998 when a staff assistant at Van Scoyoc Associates sued the lobbying firm in DC federal court, accusing a vice president there of making sexually explicit comments to her following a holiday party at Old Ebbitt Grill. The judge dismissed that claim, though some of the woman’s other allegations were settled out of court.

This article first appeared in the February 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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