One of Fresno’s most well-known legal firms is facing litigation of its own. McCormick Barstow and two of its partners have been sued for sexual harassment.
In a complaint filed last week in Fresno County Superior Court, Abigail Sedra detailed alleged harassment at the hands of one partner — Matthew E. Fletcher — and how another, Dana Denno, allegedly did nothing about it.
Sedra grew up in Fresno and attended San Joaquin Memorial High School. She started at McCormick Barstow as her first job out of law school but lasted only five months. Her time at McCormick Barstow allegedly left her with a diagnosis of PTSD.
“McCormick Barstow’s conduct in its handling of the situation involving one of its top partners and this young, female associate attorney is reprehensible, especially when taking into account how this firm holds itself out as a pillar of the community —both in prestige and ethics,” Sedra’s attorney, Maria Minney, told GV Wire. “The firm’s illegal conduct after being made aware of the situation is inexcusable. This lawsuit is intended to make the firm accountable for its actions and practices, and to ensure this never happens again.”
The law firm, through its attorney, denied all allegations.
“My clients, including Ms. Denno and Mr. Fletcher and the firm, deny any wrongdoing on their part,” said Linda Moroney, a San Francisco-based attorney with Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani.
It is a recommended practice for an outside attorney to represent any law firm.
Problems Allegedly Began From the Start
In the lawsuit, Sedra said she had “uncomfortable encounters” with Fletcher from the moment she started at McCormick Barstow in September 2021.
The unwanted attention included hugging and invitations for lunch or drinks, the lawsuit states.
The problems culminated at an office party in December 2021. Fletcher invited Sedra to his office, alone.
“They were approximately 1-2 feet apart when he came out of nowhere and grabbed Plaintiff and pulled her towards him by her hips. He was tall enough that her face was forced against his chest, and she could feel his face against the top of her head. She stood utterly frozen and frightened as to what his next move would be, feeling he was completely in control,” the lawsuit alleges.
“She kept repeating in her head ‘don’t look up, don’t look up’ and she did not move. He just kept holding her and while not sure she felt the sensation of him kissing the top of her head. For Plaintiff, it felt like an eternity, but could have been one minute or five minutes that Fletcher just held her while she stood immobilized. He suddenly let her go without doing anything further.”
Sedra Talks to a Partner
Sedra spoke to another firm partner, Dana Denno, later that evening.
Denno allegedly told Sedra “it seems like Matt Fletcher gives you a lot of attention” and offered to be “a resource.”
Sedra started sobbing, saying she did not want that type of attention from Fletcher. The lawsuit alleges that Denno responded by saying she would handle the problem “discreetly” with HR.
Still feeling uncomfortable at McCormick Barstow, Sedra left to take a new job in Sacramento.
According to the lawsuit, she learned that HR became aware of her incident, but not because Denno informed them; rather, another attorney reported it.
McCormick Barstow: No Wrongdoing
Moroney, the attorney representing the law firm, said McCormick Barstow takes any allegations of harassment seriously.
“There are some major inconsistencies and discrepancies in connection with what’s alleged in the lawsuit. And that’s evident from the very thorough investigation that the firm had done when this issue arose. And that will all come out in the context of the litigation that is pending now,” Moroney said.
Moroney would not elaborate on how McCormick Barstow will defend the suit.
“I can’t speak for Ms. Sedra and why she decided to pursue this lawsuit and whether she intends to drop the claims when she realizes that there is no merit to them or if she wants to continue along,” Moroney said.
The complaint lists McCormick Barstow, Fletcher, and Denno as named defendants. It lists seven causes of action — sexual harassment, retaliation, failure to prevent harassment and retaliation, constructive discharge (job separation), battery, assault/sexual assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount for damages.
Sedra is represented by Labor Law PC in Santa Monica and McLaughlin Dixon LLP in Sacramento.
A case management conference is scheduled for May 11 in front of newly sworn-in Judge Bob Whalen.