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A former partner in the New York office of Dorsey & Whitney is suing the Minneapolis-based law firm, claiming gender discrimination and violations of the whistleblower act, among other things.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Gary Larson heard an hour of arguments Tuesday on the Dorsey firm's motion to dismiss Kristan Peters' suit.

Peters began working as a Dorsey partner in January 2007 and left on June 23. At the core of the case is her handling of a trade secrets dispute on behalf of Wolters Kluwer Financial Services in New York. The matter drew media attention in trade publications, largely because of U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer Jr.'s 129-page opinion criticizing Peters' behavior.

According to R. Scott Davies of Briggs and Morgan, who is representing Dorsey, Baier scolded Peters 22 times for her handling of the case. Davies said Peters played fast and loose with the litigation, lied to the court and misrepresented circumstances to the firm's partners.

Peters' lawyer James Kaster countered that the judge's behavior, not Peters', was unusual. The behavior Baer disliked -- such as scheduling a 7-hour deposition over two days and refusing to give bathroom breaks -- is not unusual, Kaster said.

Peters was denied her fair share of her $550,000 annual salary and an equity payment from the partnership, Kaster said. She claims the firm should indemnify her for issues stemming from the Kluwer litigation and seeks unspecified damages in excess of $50,000.

"The Dorsey law firm has a well-deserved reputation for excellence," Kaster said in court. "Frankly, I don't believe the treatment of Kristan Peters suits them."

He said Peters was let go because "she refused to fall on her sword" for Zach Carter, a "marquee partner" in the firm's New York office. She complained about his discriminatory behavior, ethical violations and violation of a court order to multiple members of Dorsey's managing team, the complaint said.

In his motion to dismiss the case, Davies said Peters made the claims when she could "see the writing on the wall" regarding her employment.

Peters' lawsuit claims that as a result of the complaints, she was told to resign or be fired and chose "resignation."

Davies said Peters' guaranteed $550,000 salary was "subject to her ethical duties as a lawyer." Peters did not act in good faith and is not entitled to indemnification, he said. He said it was unfair to criticize the judge.

Her conduct was "worse than unprofessional," Davies said. She deleted parts of an e-mail from the judge that she forwarded to a partner and ordered a copy made of disks despite a judge's order to return them to the court.

Davies contends she ordered a junior associate to alter documents so they could be classified as "work product." In filings, Peters claimed the destruction order was a "joke."

Davies also took issue with the gender bias claim, noting the firm's policy panel was led by managing partner Marianne Short from the time of Peters' hiring to her departure.

Peters did not attend Tuesday's hearing. Larson didn't say when he would rule, but asked the parties for an update on mediation within the week.


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