Six women filed a lawsuit against international law firm Jones Day accusing it of systemic discrimination against its female associates by way of lower pay and narrowed career opportunities.
The firm’s admitted practice of pay confidentiality, combined with the “nearly absolute control” exercised by Jones Day’s Managing Partner Steve Brogan, has resulted in an opaque review system that allows bias and retaliation to run unchecked, Nilab Tolton, Andrea Mazingo, and four Jane Does say in their April 3 complaint.
The lawsuit against Jones Day adds to the wave of gender discrimination cases against premier law firms since 2016.
Sanford Heisler Sharp, which represents the women suing Jones Day, has been at the vanguard of that legal campaign. The firm is litigating gender bias cases against Morrison & Foerster and Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart. It has settled claims against Proskauer Rose, Chadbourne & Parke (now Norton Rose Fulbright), and the now-defunct firm Sedgwick.
“The cases you see filed are the tip of the iceberg,” said Russell Kornblith of Sanford Heisler. “There are other cases that were resolved before a public filing.”
Kornblith said he anticipates that Sanford Heisler will file more of these lawsuits “because discrimination remains a major issue at big law firms.”
Sanford Heisler also represents a former Jones Day partner who alleges she was fired in retaliation for voicing concerns about the firm’s treatment of female lawyers. That case, which is ongoing in California state court, is under seal.
Jones Day didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
‘Black Box’ Pay System
Jones Day’s “black box” compensation system—which keeps attorney pay completely under wraps—facilitates gender-based pay discrimination, the women claim in their lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The firm takes on a roughly even split of male and female associates, but men are promoted to practice area chairs and partnerships in far greater numbers than women, the lawsuit says. Women allegedly are subjected to comments about their clothing choices and “stern” expressions, and Mazingo says two partners at her California firm subjected her to “unwanted sexual attention” while simultaneously excluding her from mentorship opportunities and career growth.
Tolton and Jane Doe 2 both claim they were urged to “find other employment” following the births of their second children. Male attorneys made derisive comments about stay-at-home mothers and female colleagues with children, according to the complaint.
Causes of Action: Nineteen counts against the firm, including violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993; Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; the Equal Pay Act of 1963; the California Fair Employment and Housing Act; the California Family Rights Act; the California Equal Pay Act; the California Business and Professions Code; the California Private Attorneys General Act; and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.
Scope of Relief: Class and collective status for female Jones Day attorneys, $200 million in damages, an injunction that blocks Jones Day from continuing its allegedly discriminatory pay practices, an order that directs the firm to establish new pay protocols that eliminate the allegedly discriminatory system, and disgorgement of profits.
Response: Jones Day didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Attorneys: Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP represents the proposed class.
The case is Tolton v. Jones Day, D.D.C., No. 19-00945, complaint filed 4/3/19.
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(Updated with additional reporting.)