Gender – Bias In Law: Female Partner sues own Firm

Gender – Bias In Law: Female Partner sues own Firm

$100 million class action suit against top U.S. law firm

A female partner with Chadbourne & Parke LLP, a 114-year-old U.S. law firm, is suing her firm, on the basis that the male partners receive higher compensation than the female partners in violation of Local and Federal laws.

Whilst the subject of the gender pay gap in the UK has been on many people’s lips recently, it is worth looking across the Atlantic to see the contrasting landscape. This is also a case where the plaintiff (claimant) is not an employee of the firm, but an equity partner. Therefore, this is a matter about “compensation” rather than straightforward salary.

Kerrie Campbell, having joined Chadbourne in 2014 as a partner, alleges that:

• the firm discriminates against female partners in terms of pay and power;

• the all-male (at the time of filing) Management Committee wields complete control over the firm;

• the firm regularly assigns female partners less base pay than similarly or less productive male partners;

• the firm refuses to implement its existing compensation policies fairly or consistently even when a female partner provides exemplary performance; and

• the firm retaliates against female attorneys who question discriminatory practices.

A growing trend?
This latest litigation comes merely weeks after a female partner sued another U.S. firm, Sedgwick LLP, for gender discrimination. Ms Rabiero claims that a remark was made during a meeting of the partners to her, that she “needed to learn how to behave”. It will be interesting to see how cases such as this shape the law on equal pay and gender-bias in the U.S.

Allegations relating to unequal pay and gender-bias

Voicing concerns
Campbell alleges that in 2015 she “called out and opposed gender-based pay and power inequities at Chadbourne and asked the Firm’s all-male five-member Management Committee, Managing Partner, and Head of the Litigation Department to rectify these issues.”

The court papers state that in February 2016 Campbell was informed that a decision had been taken that her practice did not “fit” with the “strategic direction” of the firm. According to Campbell, the Management Committee decided to “incentivize” her exit by cutting her pay to less than a first-year associate attorney.

Management Committee
Campbell alleges that the inequities are largely attributable to the secrecy of the decision-making process.

“This wall of silence reinforces the Firm’s glass ceiling by shielding Management Committee from meaningful oversight and giving it unchecked dominion over the compensation and employment of Firm Partners. It also enables the Committee to routinely disfavour female partners – including by granting them disproportionately fewer Partnership “points”, purportedly a key component of the secret formula used to determine base salary for Chadbourne Partners.”

Points and compensation
According to Campbell, base compensation at Chadbourne is largely determined by “points” awarded by the Management Committee. She contends that this directly affects a Partner’s long-term compensation. Male partners were allegedly awarded 250-2,250, whilst female partners only received 375-1,000 points.

The court papers state that “From her first day at the Firm, the deck was stacked against Campbell. She was destined to make two to three times less than her male counterparts did…By assigning women low number of points, the Firm denies its female Partners compensation to which they are otherwise entitled to.”

Bonuses and failure to implement existing policies fairly or consistently
The court papers also assert that larger merit bonuses are awarded to male partners than females. It is alleged that “Chadbourne’s policies and practices ensure that male Partners will have higher compensation than female Partners.”

It is alleged that, at Chadbourne, “Female Partners are generally in the bottom half of Partners in terms of compensation even though they often outperform their male counterparts.”

Retaliation against female attorneys who question discriminatory compensation practices
The court papers state that the systems in place to investigate discrimination are woefully inadequate and that Chadbourne actively retaliates against female attorneys who question the Firm’s gender discrimination practices, “thereby sending a message to women that complaining about gender discrimination will negatively impact their career at the Firm and professional reputation.”

Claims against Chadbourne:
The Class action suit has been filed on behalf of the current and former 26 female partners, with counts of violations of pay discrimination and fair labour standards.

Individually, Campbell is claiming that her termination was in retaliation for discrimination complaints and is suing for wrongful termination. She is also claiming violation of equal pay, pay discrimination, violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment by Chadbourne.

Could this occur in the UK?
In the UK, although partners of LLPs do not qualify for many employment law rights, a partner would be able to bring a claim for sex discrimination and victimisation. Any attempts to preclude bringing such claims in the Employment Tribunal in a partnership agreement would be unenforceable. If a partner had a contract to carry out work personally, they could have a claim for equal pay. A UK employer could not expect to get away with the kind of treatment Ms Campbell has alleged.

If you would like to know more about:

• Equal pay;
• Sex discrimination;
• Employment law rights;

Or any other aspect of employment law, please contact

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