Davis Polk, one of the country’s most prestigious law firms, recently rescinded employment offers made to three students who the firm believed led organizations at Harvard and Columbia that issued statements blaming Israel for the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that left more than 1,400 Israelis dead.
On Tuesday, the firm said it was reconsidering that decision for two of the three students, who fought their dismissals and said that they did not authorize the letters, which did not have any individual signatories. The potential reversal highlights the complexities — for both employers and employees — of navigating what has quickly become one of the most emotionally divisive issues in recent decades.
The New York law firm said two of the students held leadership roles in groups that signed a letter at Columbia and one was affiliated with the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups, which jointly wrote a letter that held the “Israeli regime” responsible for the deadly violence. The Columbia students’ letter expressed “full solidarity with Palestinian resistance.”
The firm did not identify the students or which two of the offers it was reconsidering.
“The views expressed in certain of the statements signed by law school student organizations in recent days are in direct contravention of our firm’s value system,” Davis Polk said in a statement. To ensure that “we continue to maintain a supportive and inclusive work environment,” the firm added, “the student leaders responsible for signing on to these statements are no longer welcome in our firm.”
The chair and managing partner of Davis Polk, Neil Barr, said in an interview on Tuesday that the firm did not want employees who endorsed the atrocities of the Hamas attack working for them.
In the past week, a large number of law students to whom Davis Polk had promised employment — from Columbia, Harvard and other schools — had reached out to say they didn’t agree with statements released from organizations they were part of that blamed Israel for the Oct. 7 killings, a Davis Polk spokeswoman, Katie Moss, said.
Many of the students also said they had resigned from those groups or similar ones after the Harvard and Columbia student groups released their statements, Ms. Moss added.
Davis Polk said it was engaging with the students who had fought their dismissals, but for now it had not made a decision on whether to reverse course.
The situation at Davis Polk underscores the challenges of bringing controversial and political issues into the workplace, and it raises a new question: Can an employer hold an employee or potential hire personally accountable for every action taken by an affinity group the individual is a member of?
Another law firm, Winston & Strawn, recently rescinded an employment offer it had made to a New York University law student, Ryna Workman, the president of the university’s Student Bar Association, who had written a message to their student group stating that “Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life.”
In recent days, some big Wall Street investors, including the hedge fund manager William Ackman, have been calling on corporations to refuse to hire students who are members of groups that signed statements singling out Israel’s policies as the cause of the attacks. Mr. Ackman, on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, demanded that Harvard release the names of members of these student organizations.
Davis Polk is known for its work representing some of the largest financial institutions and corporations on mergers, restructuring and advising on litigation. Ms. Moss said the firm had made its decision to rescind the offers on its own.