Employment 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….

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‘Alone? With a man? Oh my, I just couldn’t!’

When it comes to equal opportunities in the workplace, women working in law firms have an especially raw deal. In most cases, men are the top earners, and they’re given more chances to bring in business than their female counterparts. Some claim that male lawyers have even gone so far as to purposely exclude women from client pitches and after-work bonding activities.

These observations aren’t new; women have been getting the shaft for decades in the good ol’ boys’ club we call the practice of law. But one law firm allegedly went a step further to shut out its female employees.

Deep in the heart of Texas, a female partner claims that men and women at her firm weren’t even allowed to work in the same room alone together with the door closed….

UPDATE (4/12/2013, 5:00 p.m.): Now with a statement from the firm, posted after the jump.

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Star-crossed lawyers: Juan Monteverde and Alexandra Marchuk.

If you want to sue a defense-side Biglaw firm for employment-related claims, go for it. Unless your lawsuit is bats**t insane, chances are the firm will settle with you. See, e.g., Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell; Schoenfeld v. Allen & Overy. Heck, you don’t even need to file an actual case; even threatened litigation can yield a six-figure payday.

Biglaw firms are busy — busy making money, of course — and very reputation-conscious. They don’t want to be distracted by litigation, and they don’t want their white shoes sullied by grime. They will pay good money to make headaches go away.

But suing a scrappy plaintiff-side firm is an entirely different story. They will hit back — and hard.

Last month, Alexandra Marchuk sued her former firm, Faruqi & Faruqi, making a host of salacious allegations. The most incendiary: that a partner of the firm, Juan Monteverde, forcibly had sex with her in his office after the firm holiday party.

Now the Faruqis and Monteverde are turning it around on Alexandra Marchuk. They’re suing her back, filing counterclaims and seeking an eight-figure sum….

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Patricia A. Martone

“You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away — a man is not a piece of fruit.”

– Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (affiliate link)

Take this famous line and replace “man” with “law firm partner,” and you’ve captured the gist of the lawsuit against Ropes & Gray brought by Patricia Martone, who alleges age and sex discrimination by her former firm. (Martone, a former IP litigation partner at Ropes, is now a Morrison & Foerster partner.)

When I broke the news of this lawsuit back in 2011, I expected a speedy settlement. Would Ropes really want to go toe to toe with a pair of high-powered litigatrices, namely, Martone and her formidable employment lawyer, Anne Vladeck?

But here we are, two years later, and the battle rages on. Ropes has hired a third leading litigatrix to defend itself. Let’s learn the latest news….

(Note the multiple UPDATES at the end of this post.)

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If you’re looking to catch up on your reading of classic novels, I’d recommend Tess of the d’Urbervilles (affiliate link) — or, to use its complete title, “Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented.” It tells the story of a virtuous but destitute young woman who takes a job working for the wealthy d’Urberville family. While working for them, she receives unwanted advances from a libertine son, who develops an obsession with her. Complications ensue.

I was reminded of Tess of the d’Urbervilles upon reading a complaint that was just filed in federal district court here in New York. The complaint tells the story of a virtuous but debt-saddled young woman who takes a job working for a boutique law firm. While working for them, she receives unwanted advances from a libertine partner, who develops an obsession with her. Complications ensue.

Multiple sources brought the lawsuit to our attention. The complaint is going viral over email — partly because the allegations are shocking (and very sad if true), and partly because they’re being made against a prominent New York lawyer.

Let’s check out the complaint. At 24 pages, it’s much shorter than Tess of the d’Urbervilles….

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Judge Lynn N. Hughes

Being a federal judge is like being a professional boxer: you have to know when it’s time to hang up the robe. (Yes, pare, I’m talking to you, Congressman Pacquiao.)

How does a federal judge know when it’s time to retire (not just senior status, but complete and total retirement)? Well, how about when he starts making bizarre, offensive, and racially charged comments — on the record?

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Pamela Levinson

You know what’s the mark of a good lawsuit against a law firm? The ability to polarize. Sure, it’s fun to laugh at the wacky ones, like Berry v. Kasowitz Benson or Morisseau v. DLA Piper. But the true classics are cases in which half the people think the plaintiff is a crusader for justice, and half the people think the plaintiff is an extortionist.

Take the 2007 lawsuit of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell, brought by a young M&A lawyer claiming anti-gay discrimination. That was a great lawsuit. Some readers saw it as a Philadelphia for the 21st century, while others saw it as a shameless shakedown of a top law firm.

By this standard, Levinson v. WilmerHale is a good lawsuit. Readers can’t seem to agree on this one. Let’s check out the sharply divided opinions — and also hear more about Pamela Levinson, from former colleagues at the firm….

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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?

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We offer a lot of coverage of lawyers suing their law firms. They’re almost always the same: lawyer is fired; lawyer finds something to sue the employer over. Sometimes the lawyer’s claims have merit; sometimes they don’t.

It’s a little more rare for a law professor to sue his or her law school. That’s probably because it’s much harder for a law professor to be fired or pushed out. Oftentimes you only see lawsuits from professors when they feel like they’ve been unfairly denied tenure. After they get tenure, well, there’s little the law school can do to them anyway.

Well, unless the school concludes that a professor “poses a safety risk,” to the students at the law school. Then, the professor can be suspended.

And then, much like a lawyer in private practice, the law professor will sue the school….

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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….

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