Biglaw, Gender, Lawsuit of the Day, Sexism, Women's Issues

This $200 Million Class Action Case Claims Women Are Being Elbowed Out By The Greenberg Traurig ‘Boys Club’

Women often get the short end of the stick when it comes to upward mobility in their careers. Despite the fact that firms claim to be rectifying these inequities, for every two steps forward the legal industry takes, women seem to be pushed two steps back. Be it smaller salaries or fewer leadership opportunities, women lawyers are usually left holding the bag. It’s almost as if they’ve got to make up for what they lack (dangling genitalia), in all of their dealings.

Women already have a hard enough time as it is without being unfairly subjected to unspoken policies that affect both firm politics and partnership decisions. But, such is life when you’ve thrust yourself into the wonderful world of Biglaw, where the “boys club” reigns supreme, and women are essentially railroaded into the pink ghetto.

How would you like to work for a firm where men hog all of the origination credit, and do their damnedest to exclude women from client pitches? How would you like to work for a firm where women are encouraged to have intimate relationships with firm leaders in order to be promoted?

That doesn’t sound like a friendly working environment, but that’s exactly what a $200 million class action suit against Greenberg Traurig alleges….

Francine Griesing, a former partner in Greenberg Traurig’s Philadelphia office, sued the firm today in federal court. She claims she was fired in 2010 after lodging complaints about the firm’s gender discrimination with CEO Richard Rosenbaum. Griesing frames the case for GT’s alleged discrimination early on in the complaint (filed by the Sanford Heisler law firm):

That sounds quite foreboding. Griesing claims that GT “pays women less, promotes them at lower rates than men and virtually freezes them out from high-level managerial positions.” Here are some additional details on Griesing’s allegations of discrimination, noted by the ABA Journal:

The suit claims women at the firm’s Philadelphia office are compensated less than their male counterparts, are given less business-generating opportunities, and assigned lower titles. But the disparities “are neither coincidental nor limited to its Philadelphia office,” the suit says.

Rosenbaum makes all promotion and compensation decisions for every shareholder nationwide, the suit says, after he consults with “a centralized brotherhood” consisting of four other men on the firm’s compensation committee. The decisions are kept secret to shield them from review, the suit claims, in a process that lacks objective standards.

But perhaps the best allegation of all in this class action suit is the one that alludes to the only way that women at GT are able to break through the glass ceiling: by sleeping with their superiors. Yes, seriously:

This was likely inadvertent, but it’s incredibly fitting that this particularly sexy allegation is housed in paragraph 69 of the complaint, eh ladies? If the allegations in Griesing’s complaint are to be believed, it must be nice to know that despite this Biglaw firm’s posturing about equality for women, you — and your sugar tits, sweetie — are really nothing more than a notch on someone’s bedpost.

Hilarie Bass, a member of Greenberg Traurig’s executive committee, had this to say about Griesing’s suit:

The lawsuit filed today by Francine Griesing and her attorneys is an affront to the accomplished, talented women of Greenberg Traurig, who, like all of our lawyers, are compensated based on merit. It is nothing more than a financially motivated publicity stunt without merit, backed by neither fact nor law. …

Greenberg Traurig has an exemplary record of fairness and advancement irrespective or gender, race or creed. Our history of recruiting, retaining, and promoting women and our law firm reflects that. The firm intends to vigorously defend our practices against her lawsuit and we fully expect to prevail.

No matter which side you believe is telling the truth here, and regardless of whether this suit is actually a “publicity stunt,” this will be a case to watch. It could have serious ramifications for how Biglaw firms operate in the future when it comes to the women they employ (be it in the bedroom, or in the office).

(If you’re interested, the complaint against Greenberg Traurig is available in full on the following page.)

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