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Jones Day Seeks Win, Sanctions in Couple’s Leave, Pay Bias Suit

Dec. 5, 2022, 4:14 PM

Jones Day says two married former associates suing it for alleged paternity leave discrimination, sex-based pay bias, and job retaliation failed to raise enough evidence to warrant a trial.

The international law firm seeks to put an end to Mark Savignac’s and Julia Sheketoff’s August 2019 lawsuit in a summary judgment motion filed Dec. 2. It also seeks sanctions against the couple, asserting that they’ve continued with some of their claims in bad faith because they know they lack any evidentiary support for those allegations.

The suit alleges that Jones Day’s parental leave policy is biased against fathers because it gives them eight fewer weeks of paid leave than new mothers. It also alleges that Sheketoff received a smaller bonus in 2017 than she should have and that her sex was the cause, that Jones Day retaliated against Savignac by firing him for complaining about the leave bias, and that a press release the firm issued after the couple sued likewise was retaliatory.

The evidence doesn’t support any of Savignac’s and Sheketoff’s remaining claims, the motion for summary judgment said.

Jones Day allows both new mothers and fathers to take 10 weeks of paid family leave, and provides eight additional weeks of leave to mothers on the presumption that they will be disabled for that period following child birth, the motion said. That presumption was adopted in 1994 based on Jones Day’s experience with postpartum medical certifications and desire to accommodate the greatest number of disabilities while respecting birthmothers’ privacy, the motion said.

Both sides’ expert witnesses agree that a six-to-eight week period for postpartum disability is routine, the defendants said.

That the disability leave presumed for mothers was reasonable and free of even a “hint of discriminatory intent” means that Savignac’s retaliation claims flowing from his complaint about parental leave and his demand for equal treatment fail, the motion said. He lacked a good-faith belief that the parental leave policy violates federal law, so he never engaged in the protected activity needed to prove retaliation, the motion said.

Sheketoff’s pay bias claim is undercut by evidence that managing partner Stephen Brogan alone made the decision to reduce her 2017 bonus, and never saw the underlying allegedly sex-biased review by a male partner, the motion said.

That review was consistent with other reviews she received from lawyers she doesn’t contend were motivated by sex bias, the motion said. And the evidence shows he tended to review male associates more critically than female associates, the motion said.

The couple lack a triable claim regarding the press release Jones Day issued in response to being sued because everything in the release “was true or at least a matter of reasonable opinion,” the motion said.

And the defendants had a First Amendment right to respond to Savignac’s and Sheketoff’s “post-employment media activities” surrounding the suit, the motion said. Such activities aren’t protected under job retaliation law, it said.

Sanctions are appropriate against the couple for continuing to maintain their claims based on the parental leave policy, that Sheketoff’s 2017 bonus was tainted by sex bias, that Jones Day retaliated against Savignac in issuing employment references to potential future employers, and that Heifetz had a role in the allegedly retaliatory employment references or any other alleged bias, the separate motion said.

All of those allegations turned out to be completely untrue following discovery, the motion said. As a result, the couple should be required to pay the defendants’ costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees, the motion said.

Savignac and Sheketoff represent themselves. Jones Day represents itself and the other defendants.

The case is Savignac v. Jones Day, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-02443, motions for summary judgment, sanctions 12/2/22.

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; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com