Employment Law Daily $100M gender discrimination class action filed by female partners against Chadbourne & Parke
Tuesday, September 6, 2016

$100M gender discrimination class action filed by female partners against Chadbourne & Parke

A $100 million class action complaint was filed against Chadbourne & Parke LLP on August 31 in the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit was filed by plaintiff Kerrie Campbell, a nationally recognized trial lawyer and partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office, on behalf of Chadbourne's approximately 26 current and former female partners, according to Sanford Heisler, LLP, which is representing the plaintiff. Gender discrimination. In what it calls a "pervasive culture of gender discrimination," the complaint alleges that female partners at the firm are excluded from positions of decision-making authority and receive less pay and bonuses even when they out-perform their male counterparts. There is a one-tier partnership, with every partner characterized as an equity partner. Throughout the named plaintiff’s tenure at Chadbourne, a five-man management committee in New York made all pay and promotion decisions "for each and every Chadbourne Partner worldwide," and this "male-centric decision making process is reflected in gender disparity in pay and bonuses." Compared to male partners, Chadbourne's female partners allegedly earn lower base pay and receive smaller, if any, bonuses. According to the complaint, "The 114-year-old Firm only recently elected its first female Partner to the Management Committee in July 2016—after Campbell filed a class charge of discrimination with the EEOC." The complaint says that gender discrimination against the lead plaintiff began when she was hired and continued throughout her tenure as a lateral partner. It claims she exceeded her $2 million forecast in her first year and maintained high collection levels through her time at the firm, yet Chadbourne continually failed to increase her pay to a level comparable to those of male colleagues collecting lower amounts. Retaliation. It also alleged that she never received a discretionary merit bonus and, when she complained to the management committee about the unequal treatment affecting her and other female partners, she was subjected to retaliation. "On February 19, 2016," the complaint alleges, the plaintiff was told that "the Firm’s all-male, five-member Management Committee in New York had decided in its secret "deliberations"—months earlier in 2015—that Campbell’s practice did not "fit" with the "strategic direction" of the Firm." She asserts that she was told "she must quietly leave the Firm as soon as possible to ‘preserve’ her reputation," and that "the Management Committee decided to ‘incentivize’ Campbell’s speedy ouster from the Firm by slashing her pay, effective immediately, to less than that of a first-year associate." Sanford Heisler estimates that Chadbourne underpaid the plaintiff by approximately $2.7 million. The complaint alleges individual and class claims of gender discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and unjust enrichment under District of Columbia and federal law including the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, Title VII, and the Equal Pay Act. She alleges the firm breached its fiduciary duty to her by failing to share important information related to firm finances and by terminating her in breach of the procedures specified in the firm’s partnership agreement. Finally, the complaint alleges that the firm was unjustly enriched when it reaped the financial benefits of Campbell’s work, and her multiple capital contributions to the firm, without fairly compensating her and providing her the benefits of her partnership agreement and withholding over $440,000 in her capital account. "Completely baseless." Chadbourne "categorically denies" the accusations, and says the "complaint against the Firm is riddled with falsehoods and, once the facts are fully presented, the Firm is confident that her allegations will be shown to be completely baseless." The complaint, Campbell v. Chadbourne & Parke, LLP, No. 1:16-cv-06832-JPO, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on August 31.

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