Morrison & Foerster Gender, Pregnancy, and Maternity Discrimination Class and Collective Action

Case Description

Case Type: Gender, Pregnancy, and Maternity Discrimination
Company: Morrison & Foerster

Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP filed a $100 million class and collective action employment discrimination lawsuit against Morrison & Foerster (“MoFo”) today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The Complaint, which is filed on behalf of three female associates currently employed at MoFo, alleges the international law firm practices systemic gender discrimination against female lawyers, particularly those who are pregnant or have children. The Plaintiffs are represented in the matter by Sanford Heisler Sharp attorneys from four offices, including David W. Sanford and Aimee Stewart in Washington, D.C.; Deborah K. Marcuse in Baltimore; Ed Chapin and Jill Sullivan Sanford in San Diego; and Danielle Fuschetti in San Francisco.

“MoFo promotes itself as a progressive firm that champions the advancement of women, but that seems to be far from the truth,” said Sanford, Chairman of Sanford Heisler Sharp. “When its female attorneys become pregnant, give birth, and take maternity leave, they are routinely denied opportunities for promotion and higher pay. When they return to work, MoFo routinely holds them back. At MoFo, motherhood is a career-breaker.”

The Complaint alleges MoFo has subjected the three female attorneys — Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2, and Jane Doe 3 — and other similarly-situated female employees to lower pay, delayed advancement, lack of professional development opportunities, higher standards and limited access to meaningful work. The discriminatory policies and practices are created and implemented by MoFo’s predominantly-male leadership, giving rise to a firm culture that disfavors women, and particularly women who are pregnant or have children.

“MoFo’s employment practices perpetuate the ‘good old boys’ club’ culture that has dominated law firms for decades,” said Deborah K. Marcuse, Managing Partner of Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Baltimore office. “MoFo’s standard operating procedure of delaying the advancement of women who have taken pregnancy leave holds women back and promotes damaging stereotypes of women in the legal profession.”

All three Plaintiffs are California residents employed in a MoFo California office. According to The American Lawyer, in 2018, MoFo was the 28th largest law firm in the U.S. by gross revenue, with $1.062 billion in annual revenue, 960 U.S. attorneys, and 16 worldwide offices, four of which are in California. The firm is headquartered in San Francisco.

The Complaint details the adverse experiences of the named Plaintiffs as they navigated MoFo’s employment culture that marginalizes, demeans, and undervalues women, particularly pregnant women and mothers. All three Does availed themselves of the maternity leave MoFo offers, among the “family friendly” policies the firm touts to prospective employees. Upon their return, however, all three faced an unpleasant surprise: MoFo held them back from promotion with their peers, denying them the compensation increases that should have accompanied the promotions they expected. Even as it held these high-performing women back, MoFo raised their hourly billing rates as if they had been promoted. The Plaintiffs discovered this discriminatory employment practice only when they consulted an online firm portal.

The Complaint describes several other examples of discrimination Jane Doe 1 experienced, including being told soon after her hiring that she would face obstacles at the firm because she was a mother. She was also explicitly warned by a partner: “parents tend not to do well in this group.” Despite these comments, Jane Doe 1 remained committed to her work and the firm. Following return from maternity leave, according to the Complaint, she was told that she would need to “ramp up” and exceed the required 1,950 billable hour requirement, but yet was not given any assignments that would allow her to bill a respectable number of hours. MoFo effectively encouraged Jane Doe 1 to leave simply because she is a mother.

Jane Doe 2 experienced many of the same barriers after returning from maternity leave. MoFo had previously favored a more junior male associate with work and development opportunities, and like her co-Plaintiffs, Jane Doe 2 was subjected to unfair performance evaluations.

As noted in the Complaint, when Jane Doe 3 returned from maternity leave, a supervising partner told her she would have to “work really hard to prove [she was] committed and to get the best, most interesting work,” because he presumed she was no longer committed to her job given her new status as a mother.

“Notably higher standards for women and mothers make advancement and equal pay nearly impossible to attain,” said Aimee Stewart.

The class and collective actions seek to represent all female attorneys at MoFo, as well as subclasses of all female attorneys who have been or will be employed by MoFo in the United States, and who have been or will be pregnant, have children, and/or take maternity leave.

“MoFo is knowledgeable about U.S. and California employment laws, but ignores them in its own practices, to the detriment of its female lawyers,” said Jill Sullivan Sanford.

The proposed class seeks all legal and equitable relief available under California state and federal anti-discrimination, equal pay, and retaliation statutes. They seek monetary and injunctive relief to rectify MoFo’s discriminatory practices and policies and to ensure that, going forward, the Firm abides by state and local laws forbidding discrimination.

Sanford Heisler Sharp currently represents numerous female partners and lawyers seeking equity in compensation and leadership opportunities through litigation against major law firms. The firm has filed cases against Greenberg Traurig, Chadbourne & Parke (now Norton Rose Fulbright), Sedgwick, Ogletree Deakins, and Proskauer Rose. The cases against Chadbourne & Parke, Greenberg Traurig, and Sedgwick recently settled. Litigation is ongoing against Ogletree and Proskauer.

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