Akin Gump, Biglaw, Labor / Employment, Minority Issues, Racism, Staff Attorneys / Discovery Attorneys, Staff Layoffs, Yolanda Young

Covington Prevails in Discrimination Suit Brought by Yolanda Young

Yolanda Young probably isn't smiling today.

Litigation against law firms: it’s all the rage right now. Earlier this week, Sara Randazzo of Am Law Daily did a round-up of over a dozen lawsuits in which law firms have been named as defendants.

Such lawsuits come, and such lawsuits go. Let’s look at the “going” side of the ledger. A federal judge just dismissed the high-profile lawsuit filed by Yolanda Young — a pundit, published memoirist (affiliate link), and Georgetown-trained lawyer, as noted on her website bio — against the elite D.C. law firm of Covington & Burling….

We’ve been covering Yolanda Young and her beef with Covington, where she once worked as a staff attorney, for literally years now (since March 2008, to be exact). As some of you may recall, Young controversially claimed that Covington consigned minorities to a “staff attorney ghetto.”

A white-shoe law firm? That’s okay. A white-people law firm? That’s problematic.

The procedural history of this case has more twists than a John Grisham novel. In early 2009, Young sued Covington, alleging racial discrimination. The suit got dismissed. Then it got reinstated. Young amended her complaint. The case got dismissed in part, then reinstated in part. Did you catch all that?

If not, well, no worries. Here’s the latest, from the ABA Journal:

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton granted summary judgment to the [Covington] law firm in an opinion (PDF) released Tuesday. The African-American plaintiff, Yolanda Young, was hired in 2005 as a staff attorney reviewing documents in large litigation. She was among eight staff lawyers fired in 2007 in layoffs based on associate evaluations and hours billed.

(A side note: Judge Walton, appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2001, is also African-American.)

None of the staff lawyers was ever promoted to associate, counsel or partner, according to evidence in the suit. But the failure to promote claim must fail, Walton said, because there is no evidence Young ever applied for, or was qualified for, a promotion to a non-staff attorney position. Her disparate impact claim also must fail because of the qualification issue, Walton said. Staff lawyers were hired based on prior document review experience, while associates needed different capabilities.

Young’s allegations of a hostile work environment also fail, Walton said, because she only complained about one of the alleged incidents — in which a white employee read aloud racial slurs from Wikipedia — and management responded immediately. He also dismissed Young’s claims of retaliation and wrongful firing.

A hypothetical for your final exam in employment discrimination: if I read the ATL comments aloud in Elie’s presence, does he have a cause of action? And could Chris Danzig sue for harassment when we repeat commenters’ Bike Dude jokes ad nauseam?

A spokesperson for Covington issued the following statement to Above the Law (and other media outlets; see links collected below):

After carefully reviewing all the evidence in the record, and doing so in the light most favorable to Ms. Young, the court concluded that none of her many claims has any merit. We are gratified by the ruling and regret that a number of our employees and attorneys were the subject of unfair and unfounded accusations.

We reached out to Yolanda Young, but we haven’t heard back from her yet. If and when we do, we’ll update this post with her statement.

As reported by The BLT, Covington was represented in the case by Akin Gump. Yolanda Young represented herself (after her former lawyer, Latif Doman of Doman Davis, withdrew as counsel over disagreements about case strategy).

Being tagged with the R word is never fun, so vindication in a court of law must be quite satisfying. Congrats to Covington on its victory in this matter.

Yolanda Young v. Covington & Burling: Memorandum Opinion [U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia]
Yolanda Young v. Covington & Burling: Order [U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia]
Judge Dismisses Former Covington Staff Attorney’s Discrimination Suit [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]
Judge Tosses Suit Claiming Covington Failed to Promote from Staff Attorney Ghetto [ABA Journal]
Judge Tosses Racial Bias Claims against Covington [WSJ Law Blog]
Presenting the Latest Am Law Daily Law Firm Lawsuit-Palooza [Am Law Daily]

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Yolanda Young

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