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Suit Alleges Fewer Bonuses, Lower Pay for Female Partners

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 08, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Just in time for International Women's Day comes another suit alleging gender discrimination in the legal industry.

Two lawyers at Chadbourne & Parke filed a class action lawsuit against their firm, alleging that Chadbourne discriminates against female partners in its compensation system. And while the suit isn't new, having been filed last summer, a recent memorandum of law in support of class certification gives the suit's claims more force. In 2013, male partners at Chadbourne earned 40 percent more than their female counterparts, according to the filing.

Claims of an "All-Male Dictatorship"

The suit, filed in the Southern District of New York, accuses Chadbourne of denying women leadership roles and fair compensation. Chadbourne's management committee operates as an "all-male dictatorship," the complaint alleges, which "makes its decisions regarding firm partners in a black box, generally without input or scrutiny from the partnership at large."

Two named plaintiffs, Kerrie Campbell and Mary T. Yelenick, were both partners who did the same or similar work to all other Chadbourne partners, the suit says. But because compensation decisions were left to the firm's "historically all-male" management committee, they and other women were subject to systematic discrimination.

And they've got some numbers to back up their claims. According to the newly filed memorandum of law, the average base pay for women partners was 21 percent less than that of male partners. In 2015, according to the filing, 44 percent of male partners received merit bonuses. Only 28 percent of female partners did.

Under Chadbourne's "point system," by which the management committee awards points that translate into compensation, men who were less productive still received "substantially higher point values" than women.

"During their tenure at the firm, plaintiffs' revenue collection substantially surpassed that of their male counterparts, yet the all-male management committee consistently allocated them a low number of points, translating to lower compensation," according to the memo. "Likewise, the committee disfavored plaintiffs in the allocation of merit bonuses."

You Don't Speak For Us

The attorneys are seeking conditional certification for a class covering all similarly situated employees, presumably the rest of Chadbourne's female partners. Still, the suit hasn't generated much solidarity with the plaintiff's women colleagues. In a letter sent to the plaintiffs' attorney last September, 14 women from Chadbourne called the suit "patronizing and patriarchal".

"Your complaint claims that it must speak for us because we are too afraid to speak for ourselves," they wrote. "That is not how we see ourselves and certainly not how any of us believes our clients and colleagues perceive us."

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