Cleveland law firm, attorney criticized after social media post shows insulting text sent to attorney who left firm after maternity leave

CLEVELAND, Ohio — An attorney at a prominent Cleveland employment law firm came under harsh criticism Tuesday after a social media post showed an insulting text message he sent to a former female colleague who had left the firm after returning from maternity leave.

Jon Dileno, a senior attorney at Zashin & Rich, confirmed to and The Plain Dealer that he sent the message that went viral after another attorney posted a screenshot of the message on LinkedIn. By the end of Tuesday, Dileno was no longer working for the firm.

The social media post, which did not name Dileno, sparked conversations in the legal community about the harsh culture of large firms, especially aimed at women, and the mistreatment of women who take maternity leave.

“I want to apologize to my former colleague regarding the inappropriate and disrespectful text that I sent to her,” Dileno’s email said. “The thoughtless words do not reflect my values ​​nor the values ​​of Zashin & Rich, and I am sorry for any hurt that may have caused me.”

The LinkedIn post by attorney Kelley Barnett garnered more than 13,000 reactions and more than 1,900 comments as of 3 pm Tuesday. Many of those who commented shared their own stories of mistreatment at large firms.

In the post, Barnett included a screenshot of a text message sent to the woman—who was not named—by Dileno in which he calls her “soul-less and morally bankrupt” for accepting another job after she returns from maternity leave.

“What you did — collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your a–, except to find time to interview for another job — says everything one needs to know about your character,” the text message read. “Karma’s a b—h.

Barnett, wrote that she shared the female attorney’s story to show the toxic environment at law firms. Barnett’s LinkedIn page lists her as the general counsel for AmTrust Financial Services in Cleveland. Attempts to reach Barnett were unsuccessful.

Zashin & Rich, an employment and family law firm in Cleveland, who often represents the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County in employment matters, initially declined to name Dileno as the attorney who sent the text, but confirmed the attorney worked for the firm.

Co-managing partner Stephen Zashin released a statement on Tuesday that called the text “inappropriate and unprofessional.”

“That single text was sent in the heat of the moment by an employee upset by the belief that the former colleague, while on paid leave, sought employment with another law firm,” said Zashin’s statement. “Within days of her return to work, she took that new job.

“That’s not an excuse for the offending text, which should not have been sent. That single text has prompted some to question our commitment to fair treatment, diversity and other values ​​that our firm holds dear and believes in fervently.”

Zashin’s statement said the firm prides itself “on focusing on supporting working parents.” It allows for modified work schedules and offers open-ended paid leave for child care.

“We are taking a purposeful look at our culture and what may need to change,” said Zashin’s statement. “While we cannot undo the past, we can change the future. We are committed to turning this negative into a positive.”

Later on Tuesday, Zashin released another statement that said Dileno “was no longer with” the law firm. Dileno’s departure came after Zashin talked with others in the law firm, including the firm’s diversity and inclusion committee and with clients, the statement said.

“This has been a sad and challenging time for our firm,” said Zashin’s statement. “I apologize to my former colleague who received the inappropriate text and I am disappointed that this happened on my watch.”

The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association condemned the text message amid what it called the “growing outrage.”

“Yesterday, the text was heard around our community and then the nation showed us how women continue to face discrimination from some within the legal profession,” said the statement from the group’s president, Adrian Thompson, and its CEO, Becky Rupert McMahon. “We have said before and reaffirmed today: Bias has no place in our profession or in a society built on the rule of law.”

The bar association was “flooded” with messages from attorneys who are outraged and demanding action, the statement said. “First and foremost, we offer our support for the woman who received the indefensible text,” the statement said. “Second, we condemn bias, both conscious and unconscious, and call on our entire legal community to affirmatively do the same.”

The bar association said it will host a free session on Jan. 17 that will delve into legal and ethical issues related to the text.

Dileno has worked as a chief negotiator representing cities and local governments in contract talks, including the city of Cleveland, according to his biography on the firm’s website.

He has also defended the city in lawsuits, including in a retaliation lawsuit brought by former Cleveland fire battalion chief Sean DeCrane that lasted nearly six years. DeCrane last year settled with the city for $990,000.

Dileno also taught public sector law classes at Cleveland State University, according to his online bio.

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