Date: May 4th, 2012 3:14 PM
Author: Surprisingly Bountiful Alabaster Power Bottom
Dewey Partner's E-Mail Causes Upset Over Racial Insensitivity
by Anthony Lin
1/29/04 New York Law Journal
Nearly one year after lawyers at Dewey Ballantine infuriated members of the Asian-American community by performing a stereotype-laden parody song at their annual dinner, the law firm is again dealing with allegations of racial insensitivity, this time stemming from a partner's joke that was e-mailed to all of the firm's New York employees.
On Monday, an employee sent a firmwide e-mail advertising the availability of some puppies for adoption. Douglas Getter, a London-based American who heads Dewey Ballantine's European mergers and acquisitions practice then sent a firmwide reply.
"Please don't let these puppies go to a Chinese restaurant!" Getter wrote in his e-mail.
His joke, derived from stereotypes about Asian predilections for consuming animals Westerners consider pets, drew immediate criticism from others at the firm, and Getter sent out an apology. The firm's co-chairs, Sanford Morhouse and Morton Pierce, also issued a response.
"This afternoon an offensive e-mail was circulated by a partner," Morhouse and Pierce wrote. "Comments of this nature are inconsistent with the values of this firm and will not be tolerated. We extend our immediate apologies to the entire Dewey Ballantine community."
Dewey has 582 lawyers worldwide, with almost 350 in New York.
In an interview Tuesday, Morhouse said the firm's executive committee would be meeting shortly to determine what further action should be taken. Getter could not be reached for comment.
Last March, the firm issued an apology after the Law Journal reported that at a Jan. 31, 2003, annual dinner, the firm had parodied the closing of its Hong Kong office with a version of "Hello Dolly" retitled "The Dirge of Long Duck Dong," an apparent reference to the stereotyped
Chinese exchange student in the movie "Sixteen Candles."
The song said the seven-lawyer office, which closed at the end of March 2003, was "chow mein" and was getting "the gong."
"You were the firm's folly," the song continued, "and now we so solly to be cutting off your source of livelihood."
The black-tie annual dinner and its anonymously penned parodies were a longstanding tradition at the firm. Morhouse and Pierce discontinued the dinner shortly after becoming the firm's co-chairs in October.
"It was a party culture that had outlived its usefulness," Morhouse said Tuesday.
But he stressed that neither the dinner nor Monday's incident should be taken as representative of the firm's character. He said Asian and Asian-American lawyers were "tremendously well-regarded" and "highly valued" at the firm.
"For us to be tagged with this kind of prejudice is truly unfortunate and ironic," said Morhouse.
Grace Yoo, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, applauded Monday's swift response by Dewey, but said she was troubled that a partner felt comfortable enough to send such an e-mail.
The sentiment expressed in Getter's joke, she said, reinforced notions that Asians were "perpetual foreigners" and "were not within the norm of acceptability in American society."
Monday's incident also provides yet another example of a workplace gaffe magnified by an e-mail "reply all" command.
Last year, a summer associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom garnered media attention when he mistakenly sent an e-mail describing his sushi lunch and light workload to several partners at the firm.
But Morhouse said Getter's e-mail would have been offensive even if it had not been so widely circulated.
"It's not who we are," he said. "We apologize and we are sincere in that."