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The experiences of Larry Mungin, as detailed in Paul Barrett's novel, The Good Black provide the reader with a good framework for understanding the complex issues that face companies and employees when racial questions are on the table. Mungin's experiences at Katten Muchin & Zavis reflect the problems that are involved when a company moves to diversify its work force and the challenges minorities face when considering employment opportunities. One can see that the problems of defining racism against the context of poor management and the typical corporate working environment is extremely difficult. The subsequent litigation in this dispute also gives one insight into the problems of trying a racial discrimination suit.
To best understand the problems that developed between Larry Mungin and his employers as Katten Muchin & Zavis one must consider the reasons why he was offered employment. The position that Mungin was to fill was a recent construct of Mark Dombroff. Dombroff had only recently become a member of the firm himself and was recruited as a "rainmaker" for the firm. Dombroff's first move at Katten Muchin and Zavis was to aggressively pursue a new track for the firm. He envisioned as inclusive Insurance and bankruptcy practice which would cater to the needs of large corporate clients.
Enter Larry Mungin. Mungin was a burgeoning bankruptcy lawyer ready to aggressively pursue a partnership. This was not Mungin's first job, in fact he was looking for a firm in which he could launch his bid for a partnership as he entered his eight year of practicing law. He sought the services of a headhunter who paired him up with Katten Muchin & Zavis. Mungin's headhunter overplayed the possibility of Mungin bringing the FDIC with him if he were to accept an offer from Katten Muchin & Zavis. One can speculate that Dombroff initially considered Mungin because of the possibility of K.M.&Z adding the FDIC to their client list. However, it is also clear that Mungin's race became a deciding factor in his hire. As Dombroff noted " Harvard-Harvard, Weil Gotshal. His experience is bankruptcy, bankruptcy, bankruptcy. He's perfect! And he's black."(Barrett,p.9) Ergo, despite the reservations of partners like Vincent Sergi, concerning the amount of work available for Mungin, Dombroff offered Mungin a job.
Larry Mungin also had some expectations of his own as he considered taking a job at Katten Muchin & Zavis. As we know Larry Mungin sought a job with a firm in which he would be able to make partner.
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The problems that ensued after Larry Mungin was hired can be attributed to three main areas. First, Dumbroff's vision for nation wide insurance and bankruptcy litigation covered by the all inclusive service offered by Katten Muchin and Zavis was never realized. Second, Katten Muchin and Zavis attempted to retain Mungin after the bankruptcy work dried up because of his race. And thirdly, Larry Mungin's life experiences and personal inklings added to the complexity of the situation.
Larry Mungin was recruited to work for Katten Muchin and Zavis because Dombroff believed that bankruptcy work at the firm was going to increase. However, as time wore on business shrunk. When the firm lost a majority of AIG's business Jeff Sherman, Mungin's immediate supervisor, left the firm. Upon Sherman's departure it became clear that the remaining work that Katten Muchin & Zavis had for Mungin was routine at best. This was combined with Gilmore and Dombroff's tendency to cut all other lawyers, at the D.C. office out of the loop on important decisions, both about clients and the functioning of the office. This left Mungin adrift in the office, with work that was not inclined to propel toward a partnership opportunity.
The second major problem was the effort that Katten Muchin and Zavis made to retain Mungin after his job opportunities at the firm folded. Here we see the first point at which Mungin's race separated him from other employees. Had Mungin not been black he may have been fired soon after bankruptcy litigation futures at KMZ were not forthcoming. On the surface and indeed in the minds of senior partners at KMZ, the firm was helping Mungin by keeping him employed. However, his retention was not contingent on placing him in a position where his chances of making partner could be realized.
This brings us to our third area of conflict between Mungin and KMZ. Mungin was a bright, motivated and proud man. He was committed to being the type of black who could distinguish himself from his fellow blacks and integrate seamlessly into a white dominated working environment. While he was certainly no Uncle Tom he sought to make whites, who generally responded differently to him regardless of his level of achievement, comfortable with his presence. To put it simply he did not want his race to effect his prospects. As a consequence of his readiness to put the race issue aside KMZ was able to shuffle him around for an extended period of time before eliciting a response from Mungin.
The conclusions that can be drawn from the experiences of Mungin and KMZ are twofold. Firstly, the hiring and firing practices of firms wishing to increase the number of minorities in their ranks must be carefully thought out. While this goes without saying to some degree the issues in the Mungin case bring some important issues to the fore. KMZ was certainly not unethical in awarding Mungin the job over a white lawyer qualifications qualifications possessing similar qualifications. They were however mistaken to continue to employe Mungin after he was no longer of use to the firm in the capacity for which he was initially hired. Indeed retaining Mungin without retooling him in some other capacity in which his expectations could be met was a disservice to him and useless to the firm.
The other conclusion that can be drawn from Mungins experiences at KMZ pertain to how minorities might approach the hiring process. One may agree with Mungins friend Bruce Shortt when he warned "Think real hard about this," (Barrett, pg. 16) in the context of Mungins excitement for seeking employment with a firm that was dominated by one man (Dombroff) and had grow quickly. Mungin himself could relate to the problems associated with working for a company that had grown to quickly, as his current employer, at the time of the switch, had frozen salaries and was struggling to keep attorneys hired on during boom years working. This advice would be well heeded by anyone seeking employment at an untried company, not just a minority seeking work. The next issue in the Mungin case that pertains more directly to race is Mungin's consideration of KMZ motives. Perhaps some more savvy research would have unearthed some causation to explain the low number of minorities employed by the firm. Minorities face a number of challenges when deciding who to seek employment with and companies with proven histories concerning race relations may offer better long term employment options.
As the verdict and subsequent overturn of that verdict prove the issues in the Mungin case are not clear. A jury of reasonable people, albeit a mostly black jury, found that Mungins civil rights had been violated. However upon review a panel of appellate judges found that the evidence did not bear out the verdict that the jury had reached. Mungin's personal struggle to reach the level of achievement in the legal profession that he did is a compelling story and the callousness of KMZ certainly extinguished some of his prospects. However defining racism in a law firm where no racial insults have been thrown about is a murky endeavor. Was Larry Mungin's life adversely effected by the trial? Maybe or maybe not perhaps the trial offered him a way to define his goals in life rather then striving to succeed merely for the sake of reaching a goal set by his adverse early life experiences.