Employment Law Daily Jones Day sued for systemic gender, pregnancy, and maternity discrimination
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Monday, April 8, 2019

Jones Day sued for systemic gender, pregnancy, and maternity discrimination

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The complaint raises claims under Title VII, the Equal Pay Act, California law, and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, under which the firm’s managing partner could face liability.

Two named female plaintiffs and four Jane Does have brought a class and collective action against Jones Day alleging systemic discrimination based on gender, pregnancy, and maternity, seeking at least $200,000,000 in damages. The lawsuit was filed in the District of Columbia on April 3.

Fraternity culture. The complaint details a law firm environment that “operates as a fraternity in a perversely literal sense.” While senior male partners purportedly mentor young male associates, giving them preferential assignments, facilitating their access to clients, introducing them to the firm’s powerbrokers, and grooming them for partnership—even when their legal skills are notably deficient—female associates, on the other hand, allegedly have fewer opportunities for mentorship, are promoted in smaller numbers, and earn less for equal work.

One of the named plaintiffs, who allegedly worked tirelessly for the law firm at great personal cost, was purportedly denied mentorship opportunities, sexually harassed, and subjected to verbal abuse by a male partner when she was forced to take a weekend off for health reasons. By being frozen out by the principal partner with whom she had worked, she was deprived of any mentoring support to advance to partnership herself, and was ultimately forced to leave Jones Day, the complaint asserts.

Children versus career. The plaintiffs contend that there are “baseline expectations” that female attorneys must choose either children or a career. “Female associates who do not advance, particularly those who have children, are thus presumed to have chosen family over work,” according to the complaint. “Meanwhile, female attorneys without children also face discrimination based on gender stereotypes about motherhood, family responsibilities, and/or marital status.”

Women who become pregnant and have children are assumed to be uncommitted to their work, the plaintiffs allege. For one of the named plaintiffs, purportedly all it took was asking a question about Jones Day’s policies relating to maternity leave to transform her reputation from that of a Harvard Law superstar to a “problem child.” When she became pregnant the next year and went out on leave, she allegedly returned to a salary freeze, unsubstantiated negative reviews, and diminished work opportunities. When she returned from a second leave, she purportedly was told to look for a new job.

Retaliation. Female associates who “show any sign of overt resistance,” which could mean as little as questioning a policy or the basis of a comment in one’s review, suffer “pretextual critiques of their performance followed by constructive discharge or termination,” the complaint alleges. “Those who are not convinced to voluntarily depart by the Firm’s mistreatment are eventually forced out.”

“Black box” compensation decisions. The culture at Jones Day “predictably harms women in compensation and partnership decisions,” the plaintiffs contend, noting that, “unlike most law firms in the AmLaw 100, Jones Day proudly states that it does not pay associates in lockstep. Instead, every associate’s compensation is individualized and determined in a ‘black box’ by the Firm’s Managing Partner.”

“Jones Day proudly touts that it is not like its peer firms, because it does not pay its associates in lockstep,” Russell L. Kornblith, one of the Sanford Heisler Sharp attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said in a press release. “However, plaintiffs allege that this ‘black box’ compensation system masks gender discrimination in pay. It is time for Jones Day to open the black box and implement full pay transparency.”

Class and collective claims. The 19-count complaint alleges a Rule 23 class comprised of all female associates who are, have been, or will be employed by Jones Day in the United States during the applicable liability period until the date of judgment. The plaintiffs raise class claims of gender discrimination on behalf of a nationwide class under both Title VII and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, the latter of which applies to allegedly discriminatory decisions made by Jones Day’s managing partner.

The plaintiffs also raise collective claims under the Equal Pay Act, as well as class claims on behalf of female Jones Day associates in California under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act; the California Family Rights Act; the California Equal Pay Act, as amended by the California Fair Pay Act; the California Business and Professions Code; and the California Private Attorneys General Act of 2004.

The case is No. 1:19-cv-00945.

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