Asians, Biglaw, California, Feminism, Gender, Intellectual Property, Labor / Employment, Lawsuit of the Day, Litigators, Partner Issues, Partner Profits, Sexual Harassment

Lawsuit of the Day: Youngblood v. Irell & Manella
Former partner alleges sexual harassment by Morgan Chu.

Morgan Chu

Legendary litigator Morgan Chu, former managing partner and current litigation chair at Irell & Manella, is one of the nation’s top intellectual-property attorneys and trial lawyers. He has tried multiple IP cases to nine-figure jury verdicts, and he has earned every professional accolade under the sun (see his Irell website bio). He is arguably the nation’s #1 IP litigator. (If you disagree, make your case for someone else in the comments.)

And now Morgan Chu is the subject of sexual-harassment allegations. In a lawsuit filed in California Superior Court on Friday, former Irell partner Juliette Youngblood alleges that Chu sexually harassed her, then retaliated against her after she rejected his advances.

Morgan Chu is widely admired — at Irell, where his rainmaking monsoon-making helps generate robust partner profits (over $2.9 million in PPP in 2010), as well as above-market associate bonuses; in IP litigation circles, where he is a fearsome adversary; and among Asian-American lawyers, where he stands as proof that we can excel at litigation as well as transactional work.

It’s hard to believe that such a beloved figure has been hit with such salacious allegations (which we must emphasize are mere allegations at this point, nothing more). But let’s forge ahead and check them out — along with the pertly pretty plaintiff who is making them….

Juliette Youngblood

According to the complaint in Youngblood v. Irell & Manella, plaintiff Juliette Youngblood, a 1990 graduate of Loyola Law School, joined Irell in 1992, as an associate. In 1997, she became a partner. Starting in 2003, she served as chair of the firm’s Entertainment Transactions Group.

Youngblood states that she received many professional accolades and awards, including recognition from Chambers & Partners, The Legal 500, Martindale Hubbell, Best Lawyers, and Super Lawyers. She further claims that she was a strong rainmaker at Irell, with her business generation “plac[ing] her in the top 15% of firm partners in terms of individually generated receivables for years, including 2006-2009.”

During her time at Irell, Youngblood took three three-month maternity leaves (in 1997, 2000, and 2002). She states that “[w]ith each child, [she] worked until the evening before the birth of her child. After each maternity leave, Plaintiff immediately returned to full-time work.”

The maternity leaves form an important part of her lawsuit against Irell. The allegations in Youngblood’s suit were summarized as follows by Courthouse News Service:

Firm partner was paid substantially less than similarly situated males. She was also punished for taking maternity leaves consistent with firm policy. Males who took approved leaves got credited 160 hours per month. Plaintiff got zero hours.

Plaintiff resisted sexual harassment from the firm’s highest income-producing partner at a “Happy Hour.” He got mad and stormed out. Later he falsely accused plaintiff of lying about a client’s payments.

That’s a rather tame version of the allegations — a version that also doesn’t acknowledge Morgan Chu’s superstar status. Let’s go directly to the complaint for more:

Wow. And in the paragraphs of the complaint that follow, Youngblood offers more-detailed allegations about the “negative turn” that Morgan Chu’s treatment of her allegedly took after the Not-So-Happy Hour.

According to Juliette Youngblood, Morgan Chu:

  • “falsely accused [her] of lying to him and the firm about a client’s payments on a prior bill”;
  • kept her partnership point allocation “far below her similarly situated male counterparts”;
  • “pressed for further reductions in [her] compensation, through a reduction in Plaintiff’s partnership points”;
  • argued in favor of denying her a bonus;
  • “repeatedly refused to approve Plaintiff’s new client matters, such that Plaintiff could not bill on matters, including urgent matters”; and
  • caused Irell to demand that Youngblood obtain “special conflict waivers” from her own clients, waivers that Youngblood alleges were (a) overbroad, i.e., not consistent with the Rules of Professional Conduct, and (b) not sought from the clients of similarly situated partners.

This “special conflict waiver” situation was the last straw, in Youngblood’s account of events. She left the firm in August 2009 — a departure she characterizes in her lawsuit as a constructive termination, induced by Irell’s demand of the “special conflict waivers.”

Youngblood’s complaint contains eight causes of action, including violations of California labor laws, violations of the state’s Equal Pay Act, sex discrimination, wrongful termination, and breach of contract. In her prayer for relief, Youngblood seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as “reinstatement of the Plaintiff to the partnership position she held prior to her constructive termination.”

Pamela Teren

The complaint was filed for Youngblood by the energetic-looking Pamela McKibbin Teren, founder of the Teren Law Group. As you can see from her bio, Pamela Teren is a seasoned employment lawyer. She started her career at Paul Hastings, doing employer-side work — experience that she claims has informed her subsequent work for plaintiff-employees. (We’re guessing Teren knows Youngblood from law school. They both graduated from Loyola Law in 1990.)

Almost two years after leaving Irell, what is Juliette Youngblood up to now? In 2009, she started her own law firm in Santa Monica, Youngblood Group PC. (In addition to practicing entertainment law, she’s also making a foray into movie producing.)

In 2010, Youngblood was honored by the Century City Bar Association as Entertainment Lawyer of the Year. Note that her lengthy bio praises her 17 years at Irell and contains shout-outs to several Irell lawyers — “legal luminaries [such] as Arthur Manella, Werner Wolfen, and Richard Borow” — but not Morgan Chu.

Meanwhile, Morgan Chu continues to thrive as well. In May of this year, he scored a $500 million settlement for TiVo in its longstanding patent battle with DISH Network and EchoStar. In the same month, he was once again hailed as “one of the best trial lawyers in patent litigation.”

(And his two famous brothers are doing well too. One of his older brothers, Steven Chu, is a Nobel Prize winner who currently serves as President Obama’s Secretary of Energy. The oldest Chu brother, Gilbert Chu, is a professor of medicine and biochemistry at Stanford Medical School. In terms of their brilliance and their achievements, the Chu brothers are the Chinese-American version of the Emanuel brothers or the Foer brothers.)

We reached out to Irell for comment, over the weekend and once again this afternoon. The firm did not get back to us. Recall, of course, that right now we’re just dealing with allegations; we will keep you updated on the progress of this lawsuit, including Irell’s response.

If you have any information you can share about this lawsuit or the parties to it, please email us (subject line: “Youngblood v. Irell & Manella”). We welcome all information, on either side or on neither side. Thanks.

UPDATE (7:10 p.m.): Am Law Daily has this report. Irell declined comment. Pam Teren told Am Law Daily, “I made many efforts to try to resolve this before we filed, but Irell didn’t give us that option.”

UPDATE (12/17/2014): The case went into arbitration, where it was resolved in Irell & Manella’s favor. See this stipulation and order and this judgment.

Youngblood v. Irell & Manella: Complaint [Superior Court of California – County of Los Angeles]
Juliette Youngblood: Entertainment Lawyer of the Year [Century City Bar Association]
Juliette Carolina Youngblood [Avvo]

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments