Biglaw, Pregnancy / Paternity, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Women's Issues

Lathamed Secretary Alleges Pregnancy-Related Discrimination

A friendly reminder: this week is Secretaries’ Administrative Professionals’ Week. The day itself falls on Wednesday, so attorneys, buy your gifts now.

Alas, these are tough times for administrative assistants at law firms. We’re seeing an epidemic of staff layoffs, with secretaries among the hardest hit. In short, secretaries are getting spanked.

Sadly, these difficulties are not completely recent. Law firms have been reducing the ranks of secretaries for several years now.

Firing for economic reasons, while unfortunate, is legal. But one former Biglaw secretary, fired from her firm back in 2008, alleges that she was unlawfully terminated….

Here’s a report from the Blog of the Legal Times:

According to the complaint, filed this morning in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Demetria Peart was hired as a legal secretary [in the D.C. office of] Latham in April 2007. She learned she was pregnant in October 2007 and said that after she took short-term disability leave due to “extreme medical complications” related to her pregnancy, she was fired in late January 2008.

More specifically, according to the complaint:

10. On January 24th, 2008, Christopher Carr, the Human Resources manager, telephoned Plaintiff and advised her that he was terminating her employment because “she was no longer needed” and “her pregnancy complications were not his problem.”

11. When Plaintiff, shocked and emotionally devastated, reached out to Human Resources and others at Defendant’s office, she was advised that Christopher Carr told other personnel that Plaintiff was terminated because of “damn thirteen weeks for morning sickness” and her pregnancy complications were “not [their] concern.”

Some might find these comments, if true, to be stomach-turning. According to Peart’s complaint, her pregnancy-related medical issues went well beyond a little morning sickness.

On the other hand, people get fired from Latham all the time, for completely legal reasons. One of the biggest Biglaw layoffs of all time involved 440 firings at Latham, back in February 2009. More recently, secretaries in the L.A. office were given the chance to self-deport out of Latham.

In Peart’s case, according to the complaint, Latham claimed that her termination arose out of her “lack of communication.” Peart denies that she was uncommunicative and claims that she kept Latham apprised her of condition.

In her lawsuit — which alleges pregnancy and gender discrimination, wrongful termination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims — Peart seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and more than $10 million in punitive damages. She is represented by Jonathan Dailey (“A Law Firm to Help Victims”). Judge Rosemary Callyer has the case.

Balancing a law firm job and pregnancy isn’t easy. Sadly, the message of the day to Biglaw women seems to be: freeze your eggs, or risk getting iced.

Fired Latham Secretary Alleges Pregnancy Discrimination [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

Earlier: Nationwide Layoff Watch: ‘Voluntary’ Departures at Latham
Law Firm Partner Allegedly Threatened to Whip Secretary for Being a ‘Bad Girl’

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