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Zubulake (pronounced, I believe, Zoo-boo-LAH-kie). As the NY Times tells us, this is Laura Zubulake. She won.

Now, for you, this happened today. But I’m a litigator, and though I’m not involved in the case, this has been happening for two years. Why? Because UBS, her employer, screwed around with e-mails to hide the smoking guns. And got caught by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, one of the most influential women on a trial-level bench anywhere today. Scheindlin, much to UBS’s dismay, is the maven on electronic discovery, and she loves to write. So she literally wrote the book on electronic discovery– six or so published opinions that define the defendants’ obligations, and finally, impose sanctions on UBS.

So this is a win three times. Laura Zubulake walks away with back pay and statutory damages. All of us get a solid set of electronic discovery rules, ones that limit the burden on defendants but also put them on notice that tanking stuff will get them in trouble. And Judge Shira Scheindlin adds to her growing legend as a smart, gutsy judge who takes on thorny problems head-on.

But most of you don’t care about that. Here’s what struck me. Talking with colleagues (men) who were in financial services or have contacts there, the rumor is that Zubulake was an awful person to work with. My gut tells me this is UBS disinformation to try to win the case — the same was said about Allison Schieffelin (there’s a thru-link about Schieffelin in the story), though we’ll never know.

More importantly, so what? Let’s say she’s competent, and unbearable. In many businesses, including parts of Wall Street, some law firms, and places like Enron, asshole personality disorder is considered an acceptable trait — at least among the men. In fact, this was the UBS defense: essentially, that her boss was such an asshole to everyone that there’s no reason to believe it was motivated by gender animus.

2 thoughts on Zubulake

  1. I love that defense.

    I once had a boss who was an asshole to everyone, but he was an extra special asshole to women. even assholes can be guilty of gender discrimination!

    (oh wait…yeah…maybe admitting that someone is a horrible person isn’t the best line of defense after all).

  2. I worked directly with Laura Zubulake (zoo-ba-lake) and her boss Matt Chapin. Here’s the real story:

    1. LZ was difficult to manage and not a team player. The securities industry was entering a serious downsizing mode (which happens about twice per decade) and the difficult to manage people are always the first to go. I think LZ saw this coming and it precipitated her filing with the EEOC…which in turn speeded up UBS’s effort eliminate her job. It is my understanding that she has a history of sueing employers.

    2. MC, her direct manager, has never discrimnated against women. He certainly made a lot of sexually/physically oriented comments about women in general, and some specifically, but he certainly didn’t single out any one particular person – especially not LZ. Women actually probably had a better chance to succeed under MC than men, and I saw him regularly promote women and/or assist them in working in a new market, etc…

    3. UBS is truly an oppressive place to work, and the HR and legal functions would remind you of East Germany before the wall fell…it’s a terrible situation. This applies equally to men and women, trust me. Also, I fully believe that they would lie in court about anything and everything, and I think this case bears this out.


    A. LZ did not deserve the awards she won, but I’m very happy she got them.

    B. MC made some stupid comments, but he’s really a very nice guy that was made into the fall guy on behalf of UBS. I know he didn’t discriminate against LZ.

    C. The UBS HR/legal people are really the ones that should have been the focal point of the UBS wrongdoings…and there were plenty of wrongdoings on their part.

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