Southeast law firm Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson P.A. is accused in a new lawsuit of using minority lawyers as “diversity props” to profit its still mostly white male partnership.
Sharika Robinson, a black former associate with the firm, describes race discrimination there as a continuing course of conduct that dates to 2002. That’s when the firm, which has offices in North and South Carolina, became an “original signatory” to a local bar association’s call to action of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, Robinson says.
But the firm’s claimed commitment to that pledge is the product of “blatant lies” used to market it as a “trailblazer” to clients, she says. The “false facade” deceived her into joining the firm, she says.
That was after overcoming many obstacles she faced as “a teen mother with the cards stacked against her” to work her way through college and law school. Her law school excellence led to “two highly coveted judicial clerkships,” Robinson says.
She says she soon learned after she was hired in 2015 that black lawyers face a different reality at Robinson Bradshaw. That includes a separate Christmas party just for black attorneys at which they are prohibited to discuss race relations. It also includes less favorable job assignments, she says.
The lawsuit also names four male partners—three white and one black—as defendants. Robinson says she may add more claims after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gets done investigating a race and sex discrimination charge she filed with the agency in November. The firm retaliated by cutting her off from “meaningful legal work, leaving her alone and isolated,” after she filed the charge, Robinson says.
Cause(s) of Action: Robinson Bradshaw is accused of: disparate treatment and hostile work environment race discrimination and retaliation in violation 42 U.S.C. § 1981; statutory fraud in violation of the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act – N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-1; and fraud, breach of contract, and tortious interference with employment and related opportunities in violation of North Carolina common law.
Scope/Relief: The lawsuit seeks economic and noneconomic damages on behalf of Robinson, punitive damages, an order requiring Robinson Bradshaw to disgorge all revenue obtained through its alleged continuing violation of the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and an injunction barring the firm from continuing its alleged misrepresentations regarding its commitment to workplace diversity and inclusion.
Response: “Robinson Bradshaw denies Sharika Robinson’s claims, and specifically denies that the firm discriminated against her in any way. We are committed to diversity and inclusion, as evidenced by our attorneys’ contributions to the firm, profession and community as a whole,” General Counsel Kate Maynard said.
Attorneys: Carmen D. Caruso Law Firm, Chatman Law Offices LLC and The Law Offices of T. Greg Doucette PLLC represent Robinson.
The case is Robinson v. Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson, P.A., W.D.N.C., No. 3:19-cv-00109, complaint filed 3/4/19.
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(Updated with comments from Robinson Bradshaw.)