This was bound to happen at some point. There have been countless associates who were promised jobs at law firms. They stopped looking for other jobs in reliance on that job offer. Then during the recession they were deferred, or their offers were rescinded. They are the leading citizens of the Lost Generation.
Do they have any legal claims against their would-be employers?
Almost certainly not, but it looks like somebody is ready to try to find out. The ABA Journal reports:
A would-be associate has sued San Francisco law firm Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin for deferring and then rescinding her job offer.
A clean test case on the issue of offer rescission? Not quite. As with most things, there’s a racial angle…
Martinez alleges 11 causes of action in her complaint filed last week in San Francisco Superior Court, including discrimination on the basis of her gender and Mexican ancestry. She says even while her job offer was deferred, Howard Rice actively recruited and hired white associates, especially white male associates.
Damn. Doesn’t it feel like the discrimination claim clouds the issue here? The problem (if there is one) is that Howard Rice made an offer, then deferred the offeree, then rescinded the offer. That she can prove. But once you add in the discrimination claims, the case becomes just another civil rights lawsuit — and we’ve seen those before. What we’re looking for is a case that cleanly tees up the rescission issue, free from any other distractions.
I guess this is what happens when you’re trying to get around the pesky “at-will employment” issue. The firm could fire her for any reason or no reason at all, except for issues of race, gender, and a few other protected class / equal opportunity no-nos.
Who knows, maybe Martinez’s discrimination claims have merit? Of course, Howard Rice doesn’t think so:
“The complaint is factually incorrect in a number of areas, and we don’t think there’s any merit to her claims,” said John Buchanan, the marketing chief at Howard Rice. He declined to elaborate further beyond saying the firm was “disappointed that she felt it was necessary to file the suit.”
Either way, the inclusion of the discrimination claims certainly draws attention away from the larger issues at play here. And these are issues that Martinez’s lawyer, Kathleen Lucas, seems to want the public to focus on:
Martinez’s attorney, Kathleen Lucas, said Martinez’s plight signals a larger problem. In fact, her San Francisco firm has been contacted by two other recent graduates who were put in a bind after firms rescinded their job offers.
“The issue really is this deferment — they bring some of the people on, but not all of them,” Lucas said. “How are they selected?”…
“These firms have to be stopped,” Lucas said. “It’s an abuse of the recent grads.”
Well, if it’s an abuse, it’s an abuse to all recent grads: white, black, male, female — all types of lawyers are getting hit by this phenomenon of firms not honoring the offers they make to law students.
Is it possible that minorities and women are getting hit more by this phenomenon? Certainly. And if so, firms should be held accountable. But let’s not lose the forest for the trees here. If we’re interested in unfair hiring practices by firms when it comes to minorities, let’s talk about that.
If we’re concerned about the entire process of offer-deferment-rescission, then that’s really an entirely different discussion.