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Jones Day Says Female Lawyers’ Lawsuit Built on Stereotypes (1)

July 29, 2019, 5:09 PMUpdated: July 29, 2019, 8:21 PM

Gender stereotypes are being perpetuated by a group of female lawyers who accuse Jones Day of systemic sex discrimination, the international law firm contended in a new court filing that also offered revealing details about how it pays associates.

Hundreds of women have succeeded at the firm, with many getting coveted positions on its partnership and leadership committees, Jones Day told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia July 26 in its reply to the plaintiffs’ amended gender bias complaint . Jones Day said women at the firm started or have raised families while working there, without penalty.

Yet the lawsuit filed by Nilab Tolton and the six other women would seemingly attribute any success female Jones Day lawyers have enjoyed to their willingness to “drink, flirt, or otherwise tolerate rampant abuse” based on sex, the firm says.

The lawsuit, which seeks $200 million in damages, charges Jones Day with institutional bias against female associates in pay, promotions, and when they become pregnant.

Jones Day, to the contrary, fosters “unparalleled” cooperation among all of the lawyers in its 43 offices on five continents, the firm says. Its success hinges on maintaining the inclusive and collaborative culture that clients demand, it says. It has been repeatedly named “the top U.S. firm for client service” which shows it’s meeting that mark, Jones Day says.

Women lawyers have succeeded in big numbers at Jones Day, according to the firm. Almost 30% of its partnership committee are women and all were named partner while on or after taking family leave. Its advisory committee is nearly 40% women, “the overwhelming majority of whom are working mothers,” Jones Day says.

Its “pipeline” of female leaders is strong, the firm says, with 18 women among the 34 partners named in 2019. Nearly 75% of them had previously used or were currently taking family leave, it says.

Overall, 65% of the women who made partner in the U.S. in the last 10 years were on or had taken family leave and more often than not, multiple leaves, Jones Day says.

But life at Jones Day “is not for everyone,” and some come to that realization themselves while others are ultimately asked to leave, the answer says. Like the hundreds of male Jones Day associates who didn’t make partner, discrimination had “nothing to do with” it, the firm says.

Sanford Heisler Sharp LP is representing the proposed class. Jones Day is representing itself.

“Merit-Based” Associate Compensation

Jones Day shared information in the filing normally kept under wraps about its associate evaluation and compensation processes.

The firm admits that it does not pay its associates in lockstep after their early years, but instead off their individual performance, taking into account factors like geographic market.

"[Jones Day] denies that ‘so-called Cravath market pay’ is a relevant market benchmark for all associates within the firm regardless of geographic location, performance or productivity,” it says.

The firm makes annual compensation decisions after a comprehensive, months-long evaluation process, where an associate’s contributions to the firm are assessed, it says.

Top performers in markets where the Cravath pay scale is relevant typically receive compensation at or above market, according to the firm.

The firm also denied that its compensation system could be fairly characterized as “black box.” While Jones Day doesn’t publish individual salaries, its evaluation and compensation process are published on its website and communicated internally , the filing says.

The filing outlined a five-month annual associate evaluation process, which starts off each year with written evaluations from supervising attorneys that are then assessed by practice leaders and their designees. This results in a draft assessment and performance rating that are debated and can be revised by firmwide committees.

Partners heading offices also conduct their own diligence and develop their own ratings, Jones Day says. After the firmwide practice review committee meetings the partners in charge of the offices can add to the assessments.

The firm says that each year two partners generally meet in person with each associate to discuss their assessment, but that it generally doesn’t provide associates with copies of the assessment statement or the individual reviews.

“Each office has a budget available to be used for compensation adjustments, but each has its own process for determining how to allocate that budget,” the firm says.

Adjustments are proposed by the partner in charge of each office after the assessment statements are finalized. They are then reviewed by regional partners, the two heads of the firmwide associate evaluation process, and the firm’s managing partner, according to the filing. Jones Day’s managing partner is currently Steve Brogan.

“The primary role of the managing partner in the associate compensation process is in setting the firm budgets for annual compensation adjustments, approving increases in starting salaries and other significant market-based moves, and performing a high-level review of proposed associate compensation adjustments,” the firm says.

The case is Tolton v. Jones Day, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-00945, answer filed 7/26/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com
or Meghan Tribe in New York at mtribe@bloomberglaw.com

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