CHARLESTON – A former employee is suing the Bowles Rice law firm after he claims he experienced harassment and discrimination by employees of the firm.
Steven M. Prunty also was named as a defendant in the suit.
Talal B. Husn was employed by the defendant from Jan. 2, 2014, until May 15, 2015, according to a complaint filed in Kanawha Circuit Court.
Husn claims in January 2014, Prunty inquired as to whether he wished to go to a gay bar and when he expressed a lack of interest, Prunty replied that gay people liked to be made fun of and ridiculed.
In the same conversation, Prunty inquired of him regarding Arab men and Arab culture and asked about how close the relationships were between Arab men and Arab culture and whether or not the relationships between then in the culture were strictly “from the neck up,” the complaint states.
Husn claims in later January 2014, he was assigned to work on a legal project with Prunty, and Prunty provided little guidance on the project and made several changes in direction with required the project to be restarted frequently.
At the conclusion of the project, Prunty complained that Husn’s billable hours for the project were excessive and unilaterally changed his billage hours without notifying him, according to the suit.
Husn claims he complained to his direct supervisor and he was informed that Prunty should not have unilaterally altered his billable hours.
From February 2014 through the summer 2014, Prunty came to Husn’s office and made a series of statements without his invitation regarding subjects including the Jewish and Palestinian conflict and Prunty made comments that “all Arabs are crazy,” that “all Christians are crazy,” and that “all religious people are crazy,” according to the suit.
Husn claims on one occasion, Prunty stood outside of Husn’s office in the hallway and remarked regarding some entity or client not wanting a “Lebanese guy on their team.”
Prunty and Bowles Rice were aware that the plaintif was a Christian of Lebanese descent, according to the suit.
Husn claims he reported his comments to Seth Wilson, Kim Croyle, Judy Margolin and Sandy Murphy.
During the summer and fall of 2014, Prunty continued to make political, religious and sexual comments and his comments began to include more explicit references to sexual practices, according to the suit.
Husn claims when he complained about Prunty again, he was instructed to stay away from him, but no further action was taken.
In September 2014, Prunty photographed Husn at a West Virginia University home football game when Husn was sitting in the Bowles Rice seats and e-mailed the photo to members of Bowles Rice and stated that Husn sitting in the firm’s seats offended him, according to the suit.
Husn claims multiple incidents occurred throughout the fall, winter and spring and in May 2015, he and Sandy Murphy discussed his belief that he would never be fairly considered for partnership at the firm and that he was experiencing a hostile work environment that was starting to impact his health and his family relationship.
Murphy responded that he should not have suggested that he might sue Bowles Rice and that if his family was upset it was his fault because he was the one upsetting them and, based on that response, Husn expressed to Murphy that he was no longer willing to be employed by the firm under the conditions currently existing, according to the suit.
Husn claims in May 2015, Justin Harrison informed him that, with regard to potential legal claims against Bowles Rice, Husn had a “slam dunk” but threatened that if he sued the firm, it was going to get “messy.”
Husn is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. He is being represented by Walt Auvil of The Employment Law Center.
Bowles Rice issued a statement about Husn's complaint.
"We are aware of the claims that have been asserted by Talal Husn in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia," it said. "The claims are without merit. Mr. Husn voluntarily resigned his employment with Bowles Rice, and did so after becoming dissatisfied with his practice. We will vigorously defend this lawsuit, and look forward to vindicating our firm’s reputation."
The case is assigned to Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 17-C-483