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Morrison & Foerster Sued for Pregnancy Bias

April 30, 2018, 7:56 PM

Three associates sued Morrison & Foerster on Monday alleging it discriminated against them and held them back in their careers after they became pregnant.

The women practicing in California allege they were denied work opportunities because of their gender, and that they were cut out of their practice groups following maternity leave.

They’re suing Morrison & Foerster on behalf of a putative class of female attorneys at the firm.

“At MoFo, the mommy track is a dead end,” the women allege in the complaint filed at the U.S. District Court for the the Northern District of California.

They are identified in the complaint as Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2, and Jane Doe 3.

Several Big Law firms, including Proskauer Rose, Sedgwick, and Chadbourne & Parke (now Norton Rose Fulbright), have been hit with allegations of gender discrimination in recent years, but this is the first suit focusing on maternity discrimination.

Firms, including MoFo, have expanded their parental leave and flexible work policies to help address the perception that too many women leave the profession after having children.

A spokesman for the firm told Bloomberg Law in a statement that “Morrison & Foerster has a long and proven track record of supporting and advancing our associates as they return from maternity leave.”

“We vigorously dispute this claim and are confident that the firm will be vindicated,” the spokesman said.

The women are represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp. The firm has represented attorneys in numerous gender bias suits, including Proskauer partner Connie Bertram and three former Chadbourne & Parke partners who recently settled their claims for more than $3 million.

Sanford Heisler Sharp Chair David Sanford said the women chose to sue anonymously in order to avoid the “fanfare associated with the filing.” Bertram also sued Proskauer under a Jane Doe pseudonym last year and revealed her identity last week.

Several unnamed partners are also referenced the suit against MoFo, but are not listed as individual defendants.

No Promotions

All three women learned in January they hadn’t been promoted with their peers and that their salaries no longer matched with their class years, the complaint says.

Moreover, their external billing rates had been increased. The discrepancy only was fixed after they raised the issue with management, the complaint says.

During her Jan. 11, 2018, performance review, “Partner 3 made it clear to Jane Doe 3 that MoFo did not promote her because she had become a mother,” the complaint says.

Jane Doe 3 also alleges her request to work a flexible schedule (full-time but with the option to work from home) was denied.

Jane Doe 1 alleges she was told by supervisors that she needed to bill more hours. But when she asked for more work, she was unable to get any.

Jane Doe 2 alleges she was discriminated against for her gender before she even took maternity leave, and that her supervisor, a male partner, “prefers to work with male attorneys.”

“When female attorneys become mothers, the firm demands they prove their commitment by working more hours,” the complaint says. “When they seek additional work, they are denied assignments because of stereotype-driven perceptions that they lack commitment to their jobs.”

MoFo offers several work-life programs for new parents, including parental transition time, flexible work options and a reduced hours program, the complaint says.

Bloomberg Law previously reportedthat MoFo offers 20 weeks of paid time off for lawyers who are primary caregivers.

But the plaintiffs allege that women who take advantage of these programs are held back from career advancement and “set up to fail.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

To contact the editor on this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.