Alyson Kirleis

There’s a serious gender-based wage gap in the legal profession. Female partners make $66K less than male partners on average. If you’re a female partner who has thought about tackling that gap with a lawsuit, you may be interested in the case of Alyson J. Kirleis.

Kirleis, a shareholder at Dickie McCamey in Pennsylvania, has been pursuing a sexual discrimination suit against her firm for the last four years. From the Legal Intelligencer (via The Careerist):

In the suit, Kirleis accused Dickie McCamey of paying female lawyers less than males and alleged she was told by a male partner that a woman with children should relinquish her partnership and work only part-time.

Kirleis, who has worked at the firm since 1988, also claimed she was told by another male partner that the role of women lawyers was to prepare lawsuits for trials that would be handled by male lawyers. The suit also included allegations that Kirleis has suffered retaliation since her suit was filed, and that Dickie McCamey’s annual Christmas party is effectively closed to women “because of the sexually explicit nature of the entertainment including skits, songs, pornographic materials and props.”

The Legal Intelligencer pointed out that her suit could have broken new legal ground, establishing that “some law firm partners are not equal to their fellow partners and ought to be allowed to pursue employment discrimination claims such as suing for equal pay.”

But the Third Circuit wasn’t on board…

Being a shareholder means she can’t sue:

A woman lawyer cannot sue her firm for sex discrimination if her status as a shareholder and director gives her the ability to participate in firm governance and a percentage of firm profits, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled… [T]he appellate judges issued a tersely worded, four-page, nonprecedential opinion that adopted the lower court’s reasons for dismissing the case on summary judgment.

“We cannot agree that Kirleis is a mere employee of DMC, and our review of the record supports the district court’s conclusion in this regard,” Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Jane R. Roth wrote.

Only employees can sue for sex discrimination. Vivia Chen suggests in The Careerist that this is great news for law firms that want to steer clear of sex discrimination suits:

Here’s a hot tip for law firms that want to quash possible discrimination lawsuits by disgruntled women partners: Take those gals out of the income partner and of-counsel rank and give them equity — or something that kinda looks like equity.

This suggests that if you have equity, you have equality — despite what studies show.

UPDATE: The issue of whether partners can be considered “employees” for purposes of federal discrimination law is not new. Back in 2007, Sidley Austin reached a settlement with the EEOC. As explained by the ABA Journal, the EEOC “contended that a number of Sidley partners were actually employees — and hence protected by laws against age discrimination — because the firm treated them as employees even though it called them partners.”

3rd Circuit Tosses Sex Bias Lawsuit by Law Firm Shareholder [Legal Intelligencer]
Sometimes a Girl Can’t Win [Careerist]

Earlier: Wage Gap Persists Among Female Partners: Where’s the Outrage?


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