Allen M. Lenchek
July 8, 1931 – November 25, 2002
On November 25, 2002 Allen M. Lenchek, who practiced employment law in Rockville, passed away. Ironically, although Allen’s style was to work behind the scenes, always volunteering for any quiet task that had to be done in the employment law section, never seeking to be chair or particularly standing out in the crowd, he wound up successfully arguing before the United States Supreme Court in Robinson v. Shell Oil Company (519 US 337 1997).
It all started with a client off the street visiting Allen’s little office in Rockville, Maryland. In Allen’s case Charles Robinson, who had worked for Shell Oil Company, consulted with Allen after being fired in 1991. Mr. Robinson had filed a complaint of discrimination with the EEOC, and at the same time had applied for another job with another company. The potential new employer contacted Shell, Mr. Robinson’s former employer, for an employment reference. Mr. Robinson claimed that Shell gave a negative reference in retaliation for his having filed the EEOC charge.
Allen sued for retaliatory discrimination, but the U.S. District Court dismissed the case, stating that under Fourth Circuit precedent Title VII did not make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a former employee. Allen appealed, and a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court. The Fourth Circuit granted a re-hearing, vacated the panel decision, and affirmed the District Court’s determination. The Supreme Court agreed to grant certiorari. I remember talking to Allen at that time. He was both elated and in somewhat of a shell-shocked state, it finally sinking in that he was going to the Supreme Court. He began receiving offers from acclaimed scholars around the country to coach him, and I recall his training-almost like being Rocky- with Professor Eric Schnapper at Washington University in St. Louis.
This was an amazing turn of events for Allen, who had started out with a Ph.D. in physics. He turned to law much later in his life, at a time when other attorneys were thinking of retirement. Allen enjoyed the company of his children and three grandchildren, but suddenly found himself working harder then ever to go before the Supreme Court. The ultimately result was that the Supreme Court agreed with Allen that it would be perverse for employers to fire employees knowing they had immunity. The Court called Allen’s arguments coherent and consistent, and concluded that former employees are indeed included within Title VII coverage. It thus reversed the decision of the Fourth Circuit.
Allen’s work opened up important doors for all of us practicing employment law. Just as importantly, I will always remember the good cheer, optimism, and kind words that Allen always had for his colleagues and his dedication to his profession. Allen did not have a competitive bone in his body. He was also incredibly humble. Once, having spoken to the business section of the Bar Association about marketing strategies I was delighted to find Allen in the audience. This was less than a year after he won in the Supreme Court. It would have not been unexpected to find him somewhat inflated, but Allen approached me and said in his most typically modest voice: “Do you think it would be arrogant for me to put in my advertisements that I argued before the Supreme Court?”
That was Allen. While he was not looking to be a star, in his own quiet and creative way, he left a greater legacy than most any of us can ever hope to do.
Mindy G. Farber