[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ttorney Matthew Krupnick’s lawyer friends laughed when he first told them that he was filing suit against Micky’s, the gay bar in West Hollywood known for its go-go dancers and male strippers, for creating a sexually hostile work environment.
“A lot of us litigators, trial lawyers like to bounce new cases off each other to get another perspective and basically see if we are missing something or to see if anyone can offer some advice or knowledge we may not have thought about yet,” explained 34-year-old Krupnick. “One colleague poo poo’ed the case so bad and told me I was crazy to think anyone would care about this stuff, and that I would be wasting my time and money if I went forward with the case.”
But despite several motions to dismiss, the case is going forward, set for trial in October. The suit, filed by nine former Micky’s employees, alleges violations of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, labor code violations, that Micky’s tolerated lewd conduct and that its management engaged in racial discrimination and discriminated against heterosexual employees.
Since Krupnick went public last month with the details of the lawsuit, West Hollywood residents and gay men across the country have argued its merits. Some point out that Micky’s must obey labor laws. Others charge that Krupnick is a Benedict Arnold, a gay man suing a gay bar in a case that could potentially change a way of life in the West Hollywood bar scene.
The criticism of Krupnick has been particularly fierce online, with most of the 60 comments on WEHOville.com critical of him or the plaintiffs. One commenter called for a demonstration in front of Krupnick’s office.
That criticism doesn’t faze Krupnick.
“Anyone who would make such a criticism either does not know me or is coming from a place of ignorance,” said Krupnick, an employment and personal injury lawyer with a degree from Pepperdine University. “First of all, why would my sexual orientation have anything to do with whether or not I would pursue a case where there are willful and repeated labor code violations going on even though the owners, Michael and Lann Niemeyer, and the various corporate entities they have created to shield themselves with … have been sued for these very same violations in the past, which makes it impossible for them to plead ignorance of the laws.”
“What kind of person would I be, if I ignored the illegal and reprehensible conduct going on there that has devastated the lives of so many innocent and hard working employees just because this place is owned and operated by gay men and I happen to be a gay man as well?” he continued. “If they were a bunch of white people who were discriminating against blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities (oh wait, they did do that and that IS part of this lawsuit), would I be expected to turn my head and pretend I didn’t know or care as person after person came to me asking me to represent them to fight for justice and to help prevent these types of things from happening to more people in the future? Of course not.”
Krupnick’s mother Vivian, who is his law partner, also dismisses the Benedict Arnold charges.
“I’m a straight woman. Would anyone think badly of me if I sued a straight bar?” she said. “Matthew’s strong sense of right and wrong is at the center of this particular lawsuit, not the fact that he is gay or the fact that the owners of this bar are gay. There should be no mention of the word gay in this case as the facts of the case should stand alone showing the wrongdoing of the club. The fact of the matter is that an attorney is suing a bar on behalf of clients who have been wronged. It’s not a frivolous case.”
Vivian Krupnick, who was pregnant with Matthew during her first year of law school, jokes that her son picked up the law by “osmosis.” Even as a child, he’d hear her on the phone while he was playing and inquire about what she was doing.
“He’d ask questions about why I was doing things certain ways or what this meant or what someone did,” she said. “Matthew was interested in many things that were beyond his years. He was exceptionally bright, curious and enthusiastic. Matthew could discuss adult topics by the time he started school. His range of topics and interests were noticed by everyone who knew him.”
Vivian Krupnick came out of retirement to help her son launch Krupnick & Krupnick in 2009. Matthew Krupnick, the youngest of three siblings, describes himself as a “proud Mama’s boy,” calling his mother his best friend.
“She’s my hero,” he said. “She’s the most beautiful, intelligent attorney I’ve ever met. I talk to her daily. We talk about cases and everything else. She talks me off the ledge.”
Born and raised in Ventura County, Krupnick didn’t come out as a gay man until he started law school. While Pepperdine University is known for being conservative, he says the law school was an accepting environment for him and quips he “started law school and gay school at the same time.”
Throughout law school, he was living near Melrose and Fairfax Avenues, attracted to the West Hollywood live-and-let-live attitude. He still calls West Hollywood home and just last week officially moved his law practice from downtown Los Angeles to Sunset Boulevard.
In each of the past five years, he’s received a Rising Star award from Super Lawyers magazine because he’s won such a large percentage of his cases. Despite that track record, he hasn’t hit it rich yet. Krupnick takes cases on spec. He gets paid if he wins the case.
“I basically gamble for a living,” he said, noting that the Micky’s case could change his fortunes. He thinks a $15-$20 million judgment is possible.
Land use/real estate attorney Todd Elliot of the Truman & Elliot law firm met Krupnick when they were on opposite sides of the courtroom. Although they dispute the outcome of the case – Krupnick says he won the case, Elliot says they settled – the two have been friends ever since.
“Matthew is a very talented trial lawyer,” said Elliot, who, like Krupnick, is one of the select 2.5 percent of California’s lawyers to receive the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star award. “I do respect Mr. Krupnick. I don’t believe he will take a case that doesn’t have merit. He’s a very adept trial lawyer.”
Elliot, who specializes in alcoholic beverage law, notes that the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) is also investigating Micky’s on 14 counts of lewd conduct. He believes that separate ABC investigation could add credence to the charges in Krupnick’s lawsuit.
Reed Fraga, one of the plaintiffs in the Micky’s suit, approached Krupnick on the recommendation of a friend in the Navy who used Krupnick to quietly settle an injury case that could have outed him as a gay man when that would have meant his dismissal from the service.
When Krupnick agreed to take his case, Fraga recommended him to the other eight former Micky’s employees who make up the lawsuit. Public records indicate those other plaintiffs are Theodore Breaux, Michael Burlefinger, Ross Byer, Brett Davis, Jaysen Johnstein, Andrew Santiago, Andreus Shahbaznia and Ty Sparviero.
“I wholeheartedly trust him,” said Fraga. “We’ve been working on the Micky’s case for four years now, and we’ve become friends. He won’t take a case unless he actually feels there’s been an injustice for you. But if he takes you on, he’s always there for you. You can call him at nine o’clock at night, and he’ll take your call. Not just about this case, but any legal question you have.”
Vivian Krupnick says such loyalty and generosity is common for her son. She notes that while an undergraduate at Cal State Northridge, Matthew, who has a black belt in karate, taught a karate class at his older brother’s nearby karate school.
“[His brother] would write a check for teaching the class, but Matthew always tore it up,” she said. “He refused to take his money.”
While he has won a large percentage of his cases, not everyone is enthusiastic about him. One client wrote a bad review on Yelp, saying, among other things, that he didn’t keep her in the loop on all aspects of the case.
Krupnick acknowledges that review has likely cost him some clients, but also points out he got a huge settlement. “I won a lot of money for her,” he said.
When WEHOville attempted to contact the Yelp reviewer for further comment, she did not respond.
As for his laughing lawyer friends, Krupnick thinks they’ll be changing their attitude soon enough.
“My clients are ready to allow a jury of their peers to decide if this kind of behavior is acceptable,” said Krupnick. “And something tells me, when the verdict comes in, I am going to have those same lawyers that laughed at the idea of the case in the beginning calling me to help them litigate their similar cases that they might now start taking. I have all the confidence in the world that justice will prevail here.”