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MoFo Female Lawyers to Get Trial on Some Bias Claims, Judge Says

Jan. 28, 2021, 9:08 PM

A federal judge in San Francisco said Thursday it’s “clear that some claims are going to trial” in two female lawyers’ lawsuit alleging they were marginalized, denied promotion, and otherwise discriminated against by law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP because of their sex and for taking maternity leave.

Which claims from among the many Joshua Ashley Klayman and Sherry William assert against the firm will have to be decided by a jury still needs to be determined, Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said at the end of the summary judgment hearing, stopping short of issuing a bench ruling.

But any trial will have to be pushed back from the current scheduled March 15 start date until “something like August” because of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the absence of the parties agreeing to virtual jury proceedings, the judge said. But she encouraged the sides to rejoin efforts to resolve their dispute amicably, noting how “litigation can be harmful” to people and that the pandemic has reminded everyone that life can be “fragile and short.”

Klayman is a finance attorney and a pioneer in blockchain and digital assets law. Her claims include that Morrison & Foerster made it clear that she needed to continue working while out on maternity leave if she wanted to make partner. She says she did so but that her leave was still held against her and she was denied promotion.

William says she was warned when she first became pregnant while working as an associate in the firm’s Project Finance Group that her pregnancy would hold her back. She wasn’t advanced to the next associate level with the rest of her class when she returned from leave, and her path forward at the firm stagnated from that time on, she says

Morrison & Foerster says the careers of both women stalled because of their own choices and underperformance.

The two women previously were part of a group of lawyers who sued the firm in April 2018 for alleged systemic sex bias. But five women informed the court in December 2019 that they had settled their individual claims and the classwide allegations were subsequently dropped.

Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP represents Klayman and William. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP represents MoFo.

The case is William v. Morrison & Foerster LLP, N.D. Cal., No. 3:18-cv-02542, summary judgment hearing 1/28/21.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com