Akin Gump, Gender, Labor / Employment, Minority Issues, Partner Issues, Racism, Women's Issues

Discrimination Lawsuit Potpourri: Reed Smith and Akin Gump

JoEllen Lyons Dillon

Pennsylvania legal circles are buzzing over a discrimination lawsuit filed yesterday in federal district court by a partner in the Pittsburgh office of Reed Smith. One source who informed us of the suit referred to “some really interesting allegations” against the firm.

A corporate and energy law partner at Reed Smith, JoEllen Lyons Dillon, alleges that her firm pays and promotes women less than men. Yawn; that’s definitely not “really interesting.” While unfortunate — or even outrage-inducing — if true, one could say the same thing about dozens, if not hundreds, of large law firms.

Far more interesting is Dillon’s claim that “work was diverted … to female attorneys who were willing to engage in sexual relations with members of [Reed Smith] management or with whom members of [Reed Smith] management had sought to engage in such relations.” Dillon alleges that because she “did not engage in such relations,” she was professionally penalized.

David DeNinno

Dillon decided instead to have “relations” with her husband, resulting in the birth of twins. After she took time off to take care of the two tots, “her total compensation decreased, by almost half,” according to the complaint. Dillon claims that when she objected to this pay cut, partner David DeNinno, former chair of the Business & Finance Department at RS, asked if she was “done having babies yet.”

That’s just for starters. Dillon claims to have more dirt on her firm….

The business of relationships. Indeed.

JoEllen Dillon’s lawyer, Samuel J. Cordes, said that Dillon will produce specific examples of sexual quid pro quos at Reed Smith as the case proceeds. Translation: Settle this case ASAP, Reed Smith, or be prepared for the world to see your dirty laundry — i.e., some stained blue dresses.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, this move is reminiscent of Nelson v. Jones Day (lawsuit by legal secretary alleging sex scandals and intra-office affairs, and hinting at the availability of additional details).

Is there any merit to Dillon’s allegations? We’ll have to wait to find out (assuming the case isn’t resolved with a confidential settlement, in which case we’ll never know). But one Pittsburgh source offered this opinion: “Her attorney is well-known in Pittsburgh and usually only takes good cases — not a churn and burn discrimination guy. That leads me to believe that there’s some merit to her claims.”

Reed Smith’s chief marketing officer, David Egan, issued this statement to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “We have not yet had an opportunity to review the specific allegations in the complaint, but we are confident that Reed Smith provides a positive working environment in all of our offices, including Pittsburgh.”

Elsewhere in Biglaw employment discrimination news, a former Akin Gump associate is suing the firm for discrimination and retaliation, as reported in the New York Law Journal (and mentioned yesterday in Morning Docket). Tameka Simmons, an African-American woman, alleges that her 2009 firing from the firm, supposedly for economic reasons, was actually discriminatory. You can read her full complaint here (PDF).

In 2007, Simmons, a graduate of Howard University School of Law, joined the New York office of Akin Gump from Debevoise (which seems like a bad idea an odd move, but whatever). She claims that the firm made various promises to her that it failed to deliver on, relating to the types of matters she’d be staffed on and a transfer to the D.C. office (among other things).

Then, in 2009, Simmons was laid off. Apparently sisters as well as bros get iced at Akin Gump.

Here are her two most interesting allegations (from the NYLJ write-up). First:

Akin Gump subsequently assigned Ms. Simmons to work with a London-based partner, Christopher M. Gorman-Evans. The complaint describes him as “difficult” and said he frequently resorted to name-calling, such as calling her “stupid.”

Oh, don’t take it personally, Tameka. He went to Oxford, and Oxonians think that everyone else is “stupid.”


Ms. Simmons, 33, was told she was being let go in September 2009 effective at the end of the year, the complaint said. The partner who informed her of the pending termination said it “was not performance based, but purely economic,” the complaint said. Akin Gump laid off 47 associates firmwide in March 2009 but has not previously confirmed attorney layoffs beyond that date.

Remember our blind item about a law firm in New York that was planning layoffs for late 2009? One of the “finalists” for that honor, according to an analysis by Law Shucks, was Akin Gump.

So it’s probably the case that other attorneys were let go by Akin during this same time period. Stealth-layoff mission accomplished.

Like JoEllen Dillon, Tameka Simmons has well-regarded counsel: she’s represented by Debra Raskin of Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, one of the leading plaintiffs-side labor and employment law firms. (They represented Anucha Browne Sanders in her successful — and very lucrative — litigation against Isiah Thomas and the Knicks.)

And Simmons, like JoEllen Dillon, also might have some leverage over her former firm. According to the NYLJ:

Ms. Simmons claims that Akin Gump’s discrimination continued even after her termination. Her complaint said that this October, she received a call from “various governmental entities inquiring about her knowledge as to certain matters” she worked on while at the firm. Ms. Simmons said she asked the firm to provide her counsel “to ensure that she properly fulfilled all of her ethical obligations and requirements of attorney client privilege,” but the firm refused, the complaint said.

Akin Gump later provided her a lawyer but only after she sought advice from the New York Ethics Bar Hotline and counsel without the firm’s help, the complaint said. Ms. Simmons calls the firm’s behavior during this period a continuation of its past discriminatory treatment and retaliation against her.

So “various governmental entities” are seeking out ex-Akin attorneys to talk to them about “certain matters” — interesting. What might that be about?

We’ll keep you posted about both of these lawsuits. If you have any information to share, please feel free to email us, at tips at abovethelaw dot com, or text us, at (646) 820-TIPS. Thanks.

UPDATE: An Akin Gump spokesperson told the NYLJ that the firm does not comment on pending litigation.

UPDATE (5/5/11): JoEllen Dillon’s lawsuit against Reed Smith has been resolved.

Attorney files gender-bias suit against Reed Smith [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
Attorney files pay equity suit against Reed Smith [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
Suit Claims Reed Smith Managers Doled Out Work Based on Sexual Liaisons [ABA Journal]
Ex-Associate Claims Bias Behind Lay Off From Akin Gump [New York Law Journal]

Earlier: Blind Item: Layoffs To Come At ‘A Law Firm in Manhattan’
Nationwide Layoff Watch: Something Is Going Down At Akin Gump

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