Attorneys for Chadbourne & Parke, and six of its partners, on Monday filed a motion in federal court in Manhattan seeking to dismiss a proposed class-action lawsuit that accuses the firm and its management of discriminating against women partners.
The suit was originally filed in August by a partner in the Washington, D.C. office, who was joined last month by a former partner. It accuses Chadbourne of systematically discriminating against its women partners by denying them equal pay and bonuses commensurate with what male partners earn.
In a 25-page motion for summary judgment, the firm claims that as a matter of law, the two plaintiffs cannot sue the firm.
“As a threshold legal matter, the Court does not have authority to adjudicate the merits of these utterly baseless claims for a simple reason,” wrote Kathleen McKenna, an attorney at Proskauer Rose who is representing the firm on the 25-page motion. “The entire premise of Plaintiffs’ complaint – that they were or are employees who fall under employment discrimination laws – is wrong.”
McKenna wrote that the plaintiffs in the suit — Kerrie Campbell, a present-day litigation partner in Washington, D.C. and Jaroslawa Johnson, a former partner who managed the Kiev office but departed in 2014 — are or were equity partners. Therefore, as owners, and not employees, they cannot bring suit against the firm under employment discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Washington D.C. Human Rights Act, McKenna wrote.
She also asked the court to dismiss the class claims, writing that Campbell and Jaroslawa make claims that are too different from one another to meet the class commonality requirements outlined by the Supreme Court in its 2011 decision, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes.
In addition, McKenna filed an affadavit from firm managing partner Andrew Giaccia claiming that there are only 23 women partners who could join the suit. This, she wrote, would make the potential class size too small to meet requirements.
The plaintiff’s attorney David Sanford, of Sanford Heisler, said via email he disagreed and would respond in court.
“Chadbourne’s latest filings are simply another attempt to silence two women who had the courage to speak out against the culture of entrenched sexism and chauvinism at the firm,” Sanford said in a statement. “We are confident we will defeat Chadbourne’s motions and ultimately will vindicate the rights of female attorneys at the firm.”
Chadbourne has tapped McKenna and Evandro Gigante, of Proskauer, to represent it.
The proposed class-action named as defendants, the firm, Giaccia and four onetime members of the management committee — Lawrence Rosenberg, Paul Weber, Howard Seife and Marc Alpert, who left the firm this summer to join Loews Corp as general counsel. In addition, it also named partner Abbe Lowell, head of the firm’s litigation department.
Earlier this month, Chadbourne filed a counterclaim of breach of fiduciary duty against Campbell for engaging in an alleged smear campaign against the firm’s reputation in the press.