A bid by husband and wife lawyers to add to their sex discrimination lawsuit against Jones Day a new claim alleging post-suit retaliation is the “apex of absurdity,” the law firm told a federal court in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.
Mark Savignac and Julia Sheketoff sued Jones Day in August 2019. They say Savignac was fired two weeks after their son was born and three business days after the couple sent the firm an email complaining about gender inequity in its parental leave policy, with the firm much more willing to give time off to mothers.
They planned to share child-care duties equally but Sheketoff, who also once worked for Jones Day in Washington, had to take more parental leave than she would have from her new job as an appellate public defender because of the firm’s policy. They says that policy illegally allows male employees to take eight weeks less leave for the birth of a child than female employees. The firm also discriminated based on sex in setting Sheketoff’s salary when she still worked for Jones Day, the couple says.
Savignac and Sheketoff, who both formerly clerked for a Supreme Court justice and worked in the firm’s Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group, asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia June 30 for permission to amend their suit to add a claim alleging Jones Day smeared them after they sued.
The firm did so in a “malicious” press release responding to the suit that the the couple says contained false and negative assertions about them and is still posted on the firm’s website. Jones Day furthered the damage done to their reputations by promoting the press release on Facebook and Twitter, the couple alleges. The amounts to illegal job retaliation, they say.
But the court should deny the attempted amendment as “futile,” Jones Day said in its Wednesday filing. Responding to a lawsuit isn’t and can never be retaliation under workplace bias laws, it said.
“Otherwise employers would be committing retaliation every time they answer a discrimination complaint” or depose a current or former employee, the firm said.
Answering a lawsuit involves denying allegations that an employer believes are untrue, whether or not that means it could be seen as branding the worker a liar. And under the couple’s view, deposing him or her with intrusive or oppressive questioning could be seen as harassment, the firm said, rather than just exercising its right to defend itself.
That the couple claims retaliation by pointing to its press release rather than a court filing makes no difference, Jones Day said.
The press statement was issued in response to media inquiries prior to the suit being filed and said nothing the media didn’t later report when the firm formally responded to the suit, the it said.
“It is not and cannot be the law that Plaintiffs may seek widespread publicity for their claims against Jones Day yet the Firm commits unlawful ‘retaliation’ when it responds to defend itself,” according to Jones Day.
Savignac and Sheketoff represent themselves. Jones Day represents itself.
The case is Savignac v. Jones Day, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-02443, opposition to motion for leave to file supplemental complaint 7/8/20.