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Ruth Piller: Big-Firm Attorney Says Colleagues Photoshopped Her Face onto Totally Inappropriate Pics

Photoshopped images of a female attorney's face on the body of a stripper, a naked woman partially covered in sushi, and a woman in knee-high boots and leopard-print bikini are among a bevy of e-mails at the heart of an Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint against the Houston law firm Hays, McConn, Rice & Pickering.

Here's the deal: Appellate attorney Ruth Piller says she was unceremoniously fired after eight years at the firm when she didn't bill as many hours because of a painful nerve disorder called trigeminal neuralgia. Her condition, according to her complaint, was exacerbated by Photoshopped images of her disseminated largely by fellow Hays McConn attorney Staton Childers.

Childers -- who is a grown-up, by the way -- also Photoshopped other female employees' faces on sexually suggestive pics, such as a mock inspirational poster of two big-breasted women holding beer bottles in the cleavage, with the tagline "BOOBS: Because that beer's not going to hold itself." (Another pic shows a guy at a row of men's-room urinals -- above the urinals are pics of women whipping out measuring tape and snapping photos, as if to get a closer look at the guy's junk. Piller's face, and what appear to be the faces of other females at Hays McConn, are superimposed onto those women's bodies. It's a knee-slapper.) But according to the complaint, Piller was the main target.

"I was one of several women attorneys targeted and abused by the management committee of Hays McConn," her complaint alleges. "Because I am a single mother with a developing, debilitating illness, I was an easy mark for the management committee partners' unlawful and inexcusable conduct. They knew I could be bullied and intimidated because I did not want to lose my job."

Kerry Notestine, an outside attorney for Hays McConn, has denied Piller's allegations, saying she was a willing participant in the e-mails and never complained during the years the images were distributed.

Piller's "failure to complain while she was employed prevented the firm from stopping this conduct she now claims offended her," Notestine wrote in a letter to one of Piller's attorneys. Attached to his response were some e-mails in which Piller appeared to joke around with Childers and others in an exchange referring to "sexy time," which was allegedly Childers's term for "lunch." Notestine also attached an e-mailed image of Piller's face on the body of what appears to be a mid-1980s pic of Madonna, clad in lingerie and a belt buckle with the phrase "Boy Toy," and some necklaces that call attention to the cleavage. Piller writes in an e-mail, "I am very offended by this e-mail. I would like to file a grievance.....I would never wear that necklace."

Blah, blah, blah: What really tickles Hair Balls' funny bone is the fact that grown men at a law firm were e-mailing Photoshopped pictures of female colleagues in the first place. They also passed around cro-magnon palaver like this, titled "A Short Fairy Tale": "One day, long, long ago there lived a woman who did not whine, nag or bitch. But this was a long time ago...and it was just that one day. The End."

GET IT?! See, it's funny, because broads are big ol' nags! But they have boobs, and sometimes they're big!

And what really tickles Hair Balls's funny bone even more was how the named partners at Hays McConn responded -- or, rather, didn't -- to our questions about how they feel about their attorneys e-mailing stuff like this around.

But first, we called Childers, who asked to hold because he had another call. After it became clear he wasn't going to come back on the line, we called back, and -- surprise -- his receptionist told us he was out of the office. Well-played, Childers -- well-played. (We eventually got ahold of him, but he had no comment.)

Michael Hays, chairman of the board of directors of the South Texas College of Law (where he's also a guest lecturer on ethics), told us, "We did engage an outside firm who came in, interviewed a number of the female attorneys in the office and came to the conclusion there was no hostile work environment at our firm."

So we asked McConn why he thought Piller was making a big deal about her face slapped on scantily clad women's bodies -- obviously, such images had to be all in good fun.   "I don't know what Photoshopped images you're looking at," he said. He said, "I may have seen some" of the images, but he advised that the matter was relegated to the outside consultant. We offered to e-mail the images, but Hays said he couldn't promise us he'd look at them and get back to us.

Another partner, James McConn Jr., told us only, "This is a matter in litigation, so we are not commenting on it, okay?"

Here's what we don't understand: Obviously, the chairman of the board of directors for the South Texas College of Law -- a lecturer on ethics, no less -- surely must know how to prudently manage a law firm. Plus, there's an outside expert who polled the female staff and found no hostile work environment. So why, then, wouldn't Childers, Hays and McConn just tell us how they dig the Photoshopped images, how they're perfectly acceptable and how Piller is just a wet blanket?

As far as we can tell, if you're a female attorney at Hays McConn, it's just assumed that you'll get a good guffaw if a male attorney there slaps your mug on a half-naked woman's body and spreads the pic throughout the firm, and if for some reason you don't like that kind of thing, it's up to you to tell the offending parties to knock it off. And you'd better do it in writing, too.

This is why we wouldn't know the first thing about running a law firm. If it was brought to our attention that one of our dudes was e-mailing this crap around, we would call him inside our awesome, well-appointed office (which, for some reason, has a view of the Eiffel Tower) and ask him if he was out of his freaking mind. We would say, "You do realize you work at a law firm, right? A law firm that has my fucking name on it, right?" And then we'd say, "I don't care if you think she thinks it's funny. This is not junior high. Knock it off."

By the way, here's a pic of Childers and his mustache. Do with it what you will.


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