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Ogletree Faces Sex Bias Claims in California Court (1)

Jan. 24, 2019, 7:22 PMUpdated: Jan. 24, 2019, 9:15 PM

A former Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C. equity shareholder has accused the law firm of discriminating against her and other female attorneys in violation of California’s Equal Pay Act.

A related proposed class action sex bias suit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, brought by non-equity female shareholder Dawn Knepper. Ogletree Deakins asked the federal judge Jan. 22 to send the case to arbitration.

The new lawsuit was filed by Tracy Warren, who brings her class action claims of unequal pay and sex discrimination under California’s Private Attorneys General Act. She filed her complaint Jan. 23 in California Superior Court in the county of San Diego.

The use of of a state court PAGA suit could be Warren’s way of avoiding mandatory arbitration, since PAGA suits aren’t controlled by individual employment contracts that may contain arbitration provisions.

Male attorneys are “disproportionately over-represented” within each level of Ogletree’s management and leadership scheme, Warren claims. The male leadership then interferes with the pay and promotions of their female colleagues, Warren says.

The firm allegedly paid its female shareholders $110,000 less than their male colleagues in 2017, according to Warren’s complaint.

Warren also names five male Ogletree shareholders as individual defendants. The men have been “vested with centralized authority and power” to make the allegedly discriminatory patterns and practices, she says.

Ogletree takes the allegations “very seriously,” it told Bloomberg Law in a Jan. 24 email. Its transparent compensation system is a point of pride, as is the fact that “the majority of attorneys promoted to shareholder in the firm have been women” over the past five years, the firm said.

Warren herself was expelled from the firm by a vote of the equity shareholders after an investigation into a client complaint of “unprofessional and unethical conduct,” according to Ogletree’s email.

Warren has opted into the collective action claim in Knepper’s law suit, which alleges that female Ogletree attorneys are denied equal pay for equal work. That’s according to a Jan. 24 email to Bloomberg Law from Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP, the law firm representing Warren.

Warren wants a jury trial to collect unpaid wages owed to her and the proposed class.

The case is Warren v. Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C., Cal. Super. Ct., unavailable, complaint filed 1/23/19.

(Updated with comment from Ogletree.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Porter Wells in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at; C. Reilly Larson at