What do at least 5 BigLaw firms and the U.S. Women’s Soccer team have in common?
Come on, just guess. …
Big expense account? No.
Incredible benefits? Unlikely.
Fulfilled, happy employees? Perhaps, but no.
Gender pay disparity? YES! You got it! And thanks for playing our home game.
Gender Pay Disparity Alleged In BigLaw
Yep, at least five BigLaw firms across the country allegedly pay their female lawyers substantially less than their male counterparts. For the same job! Aren’t lawyers supposed to be following the law?
One would think. But that does not appear to be happening in large law firms across the country.
Beginning in January of this year, female lawyers from 1) LeClair Ryan, 2) Goldberg Segalla, 3) Mintz Levin Cohen Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, 4) Sedgwick, LLP, and, most recently, 5) Chadbourne & Parke, have sued their former law firms for sex discrimination, retaliation, and violations of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (“EPA”).
If I missed any, please email me. Let me know. I want to know.
The Suit Against Chadbourne & Parke
Let’s take a gander at the latest lawsuit against the New York/Washington, D.C. powerhouse firm, Chadbourne & Parke. Kerrie Campbell filed her complaint as a potential class action on behalf of 26 female partners alleging, inter alia, sex discrimination, equal pay claims, and retaliation. She claims that the firm routinely underpays women and “actively retaliates against female attorneys who question the firm’s gender discrimination practices.” The suit seeks relief for those who have been “disparately underpaid, systematically shut out of Firm leadership, demoted, de-equitized and terminated.”
The suit claims the firm’s male-dominated culture has prompted many women to leave, noting that of the non-partners who left the litigation department in 2014 and 2015, 17 of 20 were women.
If true, why is this sex discrimination? Clearly, the women couldn’t cut it, right?
There’s overlap here, of course. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of an employee’s gender, while the EPA targets only pay discrimination between men and women performing substantially equal work in the same workplace.
“Substantially equal work” does not mean that Ms. Campbell had to be performing the same exact tasks on the same types of cases as her male counterparts. Rather, the content of her—and potentially the other 26 female partners—job determines whether her actual work is substantially equal to the job done by her male colleagues.
In addition, all forms of pay are covered by this law, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, and any other benefits. For instance, and according to the suit, Chadbourne & Parke awarded its female partners up to 1,000 points in the firm’s compensation system from 2013 to 2015, while male partners received up to 2,250 points.
This is not OK.
Are the women being mommy-tracked?
Are all of the male partners making decisions in a “black box,” as Ms. Campbell’s complaint alleges? Is this just a “women’s issue”?
Takeaway: I think not, but along with advances in the law aiming for workplace equality, I think we need to see changes in the upper echelons of these law firms and other industries damning these practices as unlawful as well as unethical.
Following the progress of these cases should be interesting, and we’ll see if additional sex and pay discrimination suits against BigLaw crop up. After all, we still have an entire quarter left of the year, so stay tuned.