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Ex-Law Firm Partner Not an 'Employee,' Discrimination Suit Tossed

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on December 19, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When is a BigLaw partner not considered an "employee" under anti-discrimination laws? When he can't prove he was a "partner" in name only, a New York justice held in a recent ruling.

New York Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman dismissed an age-discrimination case brought by a former partner at Holland & Knight, a BigLaw firm in Manhattan with more than 1,000 employees.

Former partner John Weir sued H&K in 2007, accusing the firm of age discrimination, The Wall Street Journal reports. Weir, a "Class B partner" at H&K, was let go from the firm at age 55.

Despite his BigLaw "partner" title, Weir's suit claimed he was technically an "employee" for purposes of local and state anti-discrimination laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that in large partnerships where a few top partners wield most of the power, lower-ranking partners may be considered "employees" under certain circumstances.

Weir claimed he was never a managing partner, and was often told what to do by higher-ranking partners, Business Insurance reports. Weir alleged his firing was payback for an age-discrimination complaint he filed with the EEOC as he was being pressured to quit.

But Friedman found Weir failed to prove he was as powerless a BigLaw partner as his lawsuit claimed. As a Class B partner at H&K, Weir could vote for the firm's managing partner and directors committee, Friedman wrote, according to Business Insurance.

Weir was also entitled to a share of H&K's profits, and could not be expelled from the firm without a 70% vote of its directors, Friedman found.

Friedman also said Weir's claims failed a six-part test used by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if a shareholder is an employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Called the Clackamas test, it has been applied to non-ADA situations as well.

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