Vanina Guerrero first immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when she was 4 years old.
Decades later—after cleaning offices, scrubbing toilets, attending college, graduating from law school, and mastering five languages—she was hired at top-grossing law firm DLA Piper.
That’s when her nightmare began, she says.
Guerrero was hired as a junior partner in the multinational firm’s Silicon Valley corporate practice in September 2018.
By the end of November that year, Guerrero says she had endured four sexual assaults by her boss: one in Shanghai, one in Brazil, one in Chicago, and one in Palo Alto.
“During my entire career I was known for my intellect, tenacity and confidence,” Guerrero wrote in an open letter to the firm on Wednesday. “In less than nine months at DLA Piper... I became a shell of my former self.”
After allegedly complaining to top brass at the firm for months, Guerrero filed a report late Tuesday in San Jose, California, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The report names DLA Piper, the $2.84-billion firm with lawyers in more than 40 countries that in 2010 famously represented Paul Ceglia—the wood-pellet salesman who allegedly tried to defraud Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The complaint also names a senior partner at the firm’s Silicon Valley office who, according to the complaint, recruited Guerrero. As part of his pitch, the partner allegedly told Guerrero that she was a “star” and that he expected her to soon outpace him. He told her “you’ll be my boss soon,” according to the complaint.
Guerrero’s EEOC filing alleges gender discrimination—including quid pro quo and hostile-environment sexual harassment—as well as retaliation.
“I went from working in Hong Kong as general counsel and the top female executive at a global tech company to being abused by [the partner],” Guerrero wrote in her open letter issued Wednesday, in which she asked to be voluntarily released from mandatory arbitration. Her letter also claims that, outside of forced arbitration, she would be able to file civil claims against the partner for assault, battery, and sexual harassment.
Guerrero’s complaint alleges that the partner’s behavior was “common knowledge among employees, including other partners in the Palo Alto office” who refused to remedy the situation. She names at least three other senior male partners who were aware of the allegations against the partner for months and “opted to marginalize what happened and horrifically—did nothing.”
One of those partners, the complaint states, “bluntly told Ms. Guerrero that she was lying and that this was clearly a case of ‘he said, she said’” and then “fabricated a reason to remove Ms. Guerrero from a valued account just days after learning specific details about her claims regarding Mr. [the partner].”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, the law firm said: “We are aware of these allegations by one of our partners and take them seriously. As soon as we were notified of the allegations, we took appropriate steps to investigate them. This process is ongoing and we continue to seek Ms. de Verneuil’s cooperation in our investigation.”
The partner “regularly throws temper tantrums in and out of the office,” involving yelling, cursing, and clenched fists, the complaint states.
Once on a trip to Shanghai, the partner asked Guerrero to come up to his hotel room to discuss business, drank several glasses of wine, and offered her a foot massage, the EEOC complaint alleges.
“Before she knew what was happening, he had her lying down on the couch with his body next to her, physically hugging and groping her,” according to the complaint. “Upset and in shock, Ms. Guerrero told him ‘no’ and ran out of the room.”
“In panic and disbelief about what he had done, Ms. Guerrero stayed silent because she naively thought that [the partner] would stop future advances,” the complaint states.
The following week, on a flight to Brazil, the partner bumped himself and Guerrero up to business class and revealed his feelings for her, the report claims.
Before the plane landed, Guerrero said she was crying in the bathroom.
That night, according to Guerrero, the partner told her that he upgraded his room at the hotel so that the two could work there more comfortably and that two male associates on the trip would not be joining them for dinner. At a “romantic restaurant,” without the other two male associates present, the partner “attempted to tell her things about his personal life” while she claims she tried to steer the conversation toward work, the complaint alleges
Guerrero eventually “became so upset at the predicament that she was in and [the partner]’s obvious intent to relentlessly pursue her that she sobbed uncontrollably and they had to leave the restaurant,” the complaint states. “Back at the hotel, undeterred and seeing her in a vulnerable state, [the partner] insisted that she go to his room for a drink.”
Then, according to the complaint, he repeated the same routine as he had in Shanghai.
“Trapped, in distress, and aware of his temper, Ms. Guerrero believed the best way to protect herself was to allow his physical assault rather than fight back,” the report alleges.
The alleged assaults “directly impacted her performance and caused Ms. Guerrero to forfeit opportunities that she otherwise would not have missed,” including opting out of at least four subsequent business trips with the partner in order to avoid further assault and harassment, according to the complaint.
On another trip, in Chicago, the partner told Guerrero he needed to “work with her in his room” and again “jumped on” her, forcibly putting his hands on her neck while kissing her and playing with the zipper of his pants, according to the complaint.
“I don’t want to wait anymore. Look, the bed is right there, Let’s have an affair,” he allegedly said.
Guerrero alleges that when she pushed him off, the partner asked, “Then why did I even come to Chicago? I introduced you to the powerful partners already.”
In November 2018 in Palo Alto, the partner threw a party at his home, during which he pushed “a never-ending supply of alcohol into [Guerrero’s] hands,” the report alleges. When they were in the kitchen alone, he grabbed her by the waist and “tried to kiss and rub against her,” the report states.
Guerrero “screamed, pushed him off her, and yelled for him to stop,” according to the complaint. “Scared he would force himself on her, she begged and pleaded with [the partner] to stop.”
She kept yelling “Leave me alone!” but the partner “physically tried to prevent Ms. Guerrero from leaving his house, including by grabbing her wrists to hold her back,” the report alleges.
The next day, the partner allegedly told her he’d spent the “entire night sobbing because of the way she had rejected and treated him.”
Over the course of 10 months, Guerrero was “repeatedly forced to reject [his] advances, only to experience [the partner]’s unlawful retaliation,” the complaint claims. “Less than a year after starting at DLA Piper, Ms. Guerrero’s projected career path was in shatters.”
For months, according to Guerrero’s complaint, she was “afraid to tell anyone” about the partner’s alleged conduct, which included “manipulative badgering and belittling,” “outbursts,” “shunning,” and “extreme and unwarranted jealousy,” the report claims.
“I was petrified to believe what was happening to me, much less tell anyone,” Guerrero wrote in her letter. “[The partner] controls my work and my ability to advance. When I dared to tell him to stop, [he] would refuse to speak to me for weeks, threaten to take me off of client deals, and accuse me of underperformance.”
But eventually, word got out that something was going on.
The partner told Guerrero that there were “rumors” in the office of an affair between them and that Guerrero made male clients and other lawyers “uncomfortable” because of the way that she dressed and her “sexual appeal,” according to the EEOC report.
After one rejection, the partner allegedly “threatened her job, position, at the firm, and compensation, and told her that their working relationship would never be the same.”
By June 2019, Guerrero was hospitalized for severe intestinal problems, and physicians referred her to therapists, gastrointestinal specialists, and a social worker, according to the complaint. Later that summer, after more alleged bullying from the partner, Guerrero landed back in urgent care after a panic attack and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I speak five languages,” Guerrero wrote in her letter. “I worked as a successful corporate lawyer for top global companies on Wall Street, and in Paris, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tanzania and India. I excelled and thrived, even in these male dominated spaces.”
“Only after joining DLA Piper’s Silicon Valley practice and being subjected to [the partner]’s unlawful behavior, have I suffered such humiliation and harm simply because of my gender,” she added.
“No female working at DLA Piper... should be forced to litigate claims involving sexual assault and battery or sexual harassment by male lawyers in secret,” Guerrero wrote. “Female employees at DLA Piper deserve to know about what happened.”
This story has been updated to include DLA Piper’s comment on the allegations.