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Jones Day Defends Leave Policies, Blasts Dad-Lawyer’s ‘Threat’

Sept. 28, 2019, 3:43 PM

Jones Day struck back at a lawsuit by husband and wife lawyers who accused the law firm of sex discrimination in the parental leave available to men, telling a D.C. federal court the claims are without merit.

Attorney Mark Savignac was instead fired by the firm because of “the poor judgment and immaturity” evident in his “extortionate threat” to hurt the firm’s reputation if it didn’t treat him the same as a new birth mother for parental-leave purposes, Jones Day said Sept. 27.

The filing seeks to quickly dismiss the lawsuit, which Savignac and wife Julia Sheketoff lodged against Jones Day Aug. 4 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The firm’s policies relating to new parents are all gender-neutral, with primary caregivers eligible for up to 10 weeks of coverage and secondary caregivers up to four. That’s regardless of sex, Jones Day said in its motion to dismiss.

The couple says they planned to share child-care duties equally. The sexist stereotypes underlying the firm’s policies required Sheketoff to take more parental leave than she would have liked from the public defender job she started after leaving Jones Day, they say.

What Savignac really objected to was its short-term disability policy that permits “birth mothers alone” to seek an additional eight weeks of paid leave, Jones Day said. That differential treatment not only makes sense biologically, it’s also required by anti-bias law, the firm said. The one federal appeals court to address a claim similar to Savignac’s rejected it and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has embraced that view, the firm said.

Savignac’s complaints and threats about parental leave weren’t the sort of activity protected from workplace repercussions, Jones Day said. A reasonable attorney, let alone one with the pedigree of former U.S. Supreme Court clerk Savignac, couldn’t have really believed Jones Day’s handling of parental leave violates anti-bias law, the firm said. He therefore can’t prove his discharge two weeks after his son’s birth and three business days after he and Sheketoff sent Jones Day an email complaining about the alleged gender bias was illegal retaliation, the firm said.

The motion also seeks dismissal of Sheketoff’s claims of sex discrimination in how her performance was rated and how she was paid by Jones Day. She left the firm shortly before giving birth.

Jones Day’s pay practices are also the subject of a class lawsuit by female associates.

Savignac and Sheketoff represent themselves. Jones Day represents itself.

The case is Savignac v. Jones Day, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-02443, motion to dismiss 9/27/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com

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