Adoption, Biglaw, Gender, Labor / Employment, Lawsuit of the Day, Sexism, Women's Issues

Lawsuit of the Day: A $5 Million Discrimination Suit Against a Top Law Firm

Back in December, we wrote about a major employment discrimination case filed against Greenberg Traurig. That suit contained some salacious allegations, including claims that women lawyers had to sleep with superiors to get ahead.

Today brings news of another employment discrimination lawsuit filed against another top law firm. It’s being filed by the litigation boutique of Sanford Heisler LLP, which seems to be carving out a nice little niche in plaintiff-side Biglaw employment litigation.

Which firm is being sued this time, and what are the plaintiff’s allegations?

The law firm in question is WilmerHale, known as the home of many D.C. Democratic power brokers (and a few Republican ones, too). It’s one of the most prestigious and prominent names in Biglaw, with major presences in Washington and Boston (the former headquarters of, respectively, Wilmer Cutler and Hale & Dorr, the two firms that combined to form WilmerHale).

The plaintiff, Pamela Levinson, is a 53-year-old woman who turned to law as a second career. She graduated first in her class from the University of Miami School of Law in 2001. After clerking for Judge Adalberto Jordan (S.D. Fla., now 11th Cir.), she worked in Miami for Akerman Senterfitt for almost two years. In September 2004, she joined WilmerHale at the age of 45 as a fourth-year associate.

Here’s a summary of Levinson’s lawsuit, from Marisa Kashino of Washingtonian magazine:

Pamela Levinson, a lawyer at WilmerHale until last February, claims in her complaint that she was fired while on leave to care for her newly adopted daughter, and was denied salary increases and bonuses that she had earned.

Levinson, 53, alleges that the firm terminated her because of her gender, age, and family responsibilities. Levinson adopted a 22-month-old from China in 2011 and took four and a half months of paid leave….

Levinson’s complaint cites positive performance reviews from her superiors as evidence that she was wrongfully fired. She names partner Randolph Moss, the chair of WilmerHale’s regulatory and government affairs department and one of its most prominent lawyers, as her mentor. She says that in a 2008 performance review, Moss said she made “invaluable contributions,” demonstrated “strong interpersonal skills,” and had “well-organized, clear, and concise” work. Levinson says that in 2010, four of five partners who evaluated her work recommended her for a promotion, yet she was informed that her future at the firm was “not promising.” In February 2012, while still on adoption leave, she says she was told the firm expected her to find another job.

Pamela Levinson

Along with Jamie Gorelick and Seth Waxman, Randy Moss — no, not that Randy Moss — is one of the biggest names at WilmerHale. He served as head of the uber-prestigious Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton Administration, and he clerked for two judicial heavyweights: Judge Pierre Leval, back when he was on the Southern District of New York, and Justice John Paul Stevens.

The complaint is an interesting if somewhat odd read. Compared to other Biglaw discrimination lawsuits, it’s fairly short on specific and salacious claims of sexist comments or lewd behavior by partners. The factual allegations could be summed up as follows: Levinson was doing great work; Levinson went on adoption leave; Levinson got dinged on her bonus while on leave; Levinson got terminated.

My favorite line from the complaint appears in paragraph 37: “While she was at the office, a human resources secretary directed Ms. Levinson to retrieve her [bonus] letter from Craig Goldblatt (‘Mr. Goldblatt’), who was known at WilmerHale for delivering career-altering news to attorneys.” Yikes. Reading between the lines, he sounds like the hatchet man (although he doesn’t look like one).

What does WilmerHale have to say for itself? From co-managing partner Susan W. Murley: “Ms. Levinson’s claims are completely without merit and we will vigorously defend the firm.”

We’ll be following this case closely. If you have information that might be of interest, please feel free to email us or text us (646-820-8477).

(You can check out the full complaint in Levinson v. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, as well as links to collected news coverage, on the next page.)

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