A former equity partner at Myers Bigel PA can’t pursue her lawsuit alleging race and gender discrimination because she wasn’t an “employee” of the law firm for purposes of Title VII, the Fourth Circuit said Tuesday.
Shawna Lemon practiced patent law at Myers Bigel, rising to become a shareholding partner and equal owner of the firm. Lemon says her relationships with several other partners soured following certain statements she made to an outside attorney who was investigating gender discrimination at the firm.
Lemon submitted a request for short-term leave which the board of directors denied. Lemon claims such requests were routinely granted for the firm’s White attorneys. She also alleges the firm’s management committee began discussing other discriminatory and retaliatory actions against her, including possible termination, creating a stressful and humiliating workplace environment that led Lemon to resign.
Lemon’s suit against the firm must be dismissed, because she wasn’t the sort of “employee” that Title VII’s anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation provisions were designed to protect, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said.
Lemon was “a partner and coequal owner of MB, with an equal vote on all matters substantially impacting the firm,” the court said. She didn’t receive a set salary, but was paid based on the yearly performance of the firm and her contribution to it. She also served terms on the management committee and as vice president and secretary of the firm, and she enjoyed a high degree of independence in her work, the court added.
“In short, Lemon was as fully integrated into MB’s management structure as anyone could possibly be,” the court said.
The court declined “to assign ourselves the task of single-handedly refashioning the foundation of a prevailing form of legal practice.”
Lemon also failed to plead sufficient facts to infer that she was denied short-term leave because of her race, or that similarly situated White attorneys were treated more favorably in such matters, the court added.
The opinion was written by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III and joined by Judges Paul V. Niemeyer and Albert Diaz.
Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP, Shanahan Law Group, and Bailey & Dixon represent Lemon. Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan LLP represents Myers Bigel.
The case is Lemon v. Myers Bigel PA, 4th Cir., No. 19-01380, 1/19/21.