Case Type: Gender Discrimination
Company: Chadbourne & Parke, LLP
Update: On Thursday Feb 2nd, Plaintiffs in the Campbell et al. v. Chadbourne et al. case filed a motion seeking conditional certification of a collective action under the Equal Pay Act. Plaintiffs have asked the Court to issue notice (see here with link) to all members of the proposed collective action, informing them about this action and notifying them of their right to opt into the case to assert similar claims of pay discrimination against Chadbourne. Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law and supporting declarations have not yet been filed in the public record, as the parties are awaiting a decision from the Court as to whether any information will be redacted.
NEW YORK, Aug. 31, 2016 — Chadbourne & Parke LLP, one of the country’s powerhouse law firms, boasts on its website that it aims “to build and maintain a diverse and inclusive community” of lawyers. A $100 million class action complaint filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York tells a very different story.
According to Plaintiff Kerrie Campbell, a nationally recognized trial lawyer and partner in Chadbourne’s Washington, DC office, female partners at the firm are excluded from positions of decision-making authority and receive less pay and bonuses even when they out-perform their male counterparts. There is only a one-tier partnership, with every partner characterized as an equity partner.
On November, 3, 2016, in retaliation for Ms. Campbell’s initiation of a class action and collective action on behalf of her fellow female employees, Chadbourne filed a baseless counterclaim that was predicated almost entirely on Ms. Campbell’s actions in connection with this lawsuit.
On December 16, 2016, Ms. Campbell filed a Motion to Dismiss Counterclaim and for Related Relief, arguing that Chadbourne’s Counterclaim is patently retaliatory under federal anti-discrimination statutes (Title VII and the Equal Pay Act) and has no basis in law. Ms. Campbell is asking the Court to dismiss Chadbourne’s Counterclaim and give her the opportunity to amend her complaint to add additional allegations of retaliation.
The motion notes, “If Chadbourne were permitted to proceed with this in terrorem tactic against Ms. Campbell, it would have a powerful chilling effect on female employees at Chadbourne and elsewhere who would otherwise speak out against employment discrimination.” (motion pg.1) The motion further notes, “Because the remedial schemes in these statues depend on individuals bringing complaints of discrimination, the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act are interpreted broadly.” (motion pg. 6)
Ms. Campbell brings her $100 million class action on behalf of Chadbourne’s approximately 26 current and former female partners. The complaint details a pervasive culture of gender discrimination at Chadbourne. Throughout Ms. Campbell’s tenure at Chadbourne, a five-man Management Committee in New York made all pay and promotion decisions in secret. The male-centric decision making process is reflected in gender disparity in pay and bonuses. Compared to male partners, Chadbourne’s female partners earn lower base pay and receive smaller, if any, bonuses.
Ms. Campbell’s situation is no outlier in the legal profession. According to ALM Intelligence (as cited by Vivia Chen in her legal blog) only 8% of female law firm partners earn more than $500,000 per year. Ms. Campbell falls low in the remaining 92% under $500,000: she earns $180K, the equivalent of a first-year associate at Chadbourne and the equivalent of a first-year associate at many Washington, DC and national law firms.
“Chadbourne & Parke seems to be operating in the dark ages when it comes to gender equality,” stated David Sanford, Chairman of Sanford Heisler and lead counsel for Ms. Campbell. “The mistreatment and pay differential that Ms. Campbell suffered is inexcusable, particularly considering her exemplary service to the firm. Chadbourne may talk a good game about treating its lawyers fairly and equally, but Ms. Campbell’s allegations show that at Chadbourne gender discrimination is standard operating procedure. The fact that pay inequity is rampant in the law does not excuse Chadbourne’s inequitable compensation scheme.”
Chadbourne’s discrimination against Ms. Campbell began when she was hired. Ms. Campbell provided numbers indicating that she would generate more than $2 million in her first year at the firm. Despite this, Chadbourne awarded her a base salary in the bottom 20% of partners. At Chadbourne, salary is purportedly linked to an attorney’s annual collections, but the firm’s own data shows that many male partners with collection amounts lower than Ms. Campbell’s were awarded two to three times the base salary allocated to Ms. Campbell.
In under two years with Chadbourne, Ms. Campbell originated approximately 40 new matters for over 20 clients she brought to the firm. Campbell’s broad client base includes global manufacturers of iconic brands, public and political figures, high net-worth individuals and innovative companies comprising 80% of the multi-billion dollar “As Seen On TV” market.
While Ms. Campbell exceeded her $2 million forecast in her first year and maintained high collection levels through her time at the firm, Chadbourne continually failed to increase her pay to a level comparable to those of male colleagues collecting lower amounts. For example, a male colleague who generated nearly $2.7 million less than Ms. Campbell in 2014 received more compensation than she did.
Even though Ms. Campbell generated over five million dollars in collections after she joined the firm in 2014 as a lateral partner, she received substantially less base pay than male partners who generated a fraction of the revenue she produced, and Ms. Campbell has never received a discretionary merit bonus. When she complained to the firm’s all-male Management Committee about the unequal treatment affecting her and other female partners, the response was punitive: Chadbourne leadership deprived Ms. Campbell of the use of firm staff and resources and eventually told Ms. Campbell she was finished at the firm and must leave as soon as possible.
Sanford Heisler estimates that Chadbourne has underpaid Ms. Campbell by approximately $2,700,000. Ms. Campbell brings individual and class claims of gender discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and unjust enrichment under District of Columbia and federal law including the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., as amended, and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d).
Plaintiff requests a trial by jury.