David Sanford, the employment attorney leading the charge in an ongoing equal pay class-action against Chadbourne & Parke, has become lead counsel on a gender discrimination suit against another law firm, Sedgwick, and he’s upping the stakes.
In a new complaint filed Wednesday, Sanford alleged Chicago-based Sedgwick partner Traci Ribeiro was again underpaid and passed over for a promotion in 2016, upping her demand for damages from $50 million to $150 million. Ribeiro’s case seeks to represent all female attorneys at the firm, not including female equity partners.
Ribeiro, who joined the firm in 2011, claims she has been denied a promotion despite being one of the firm’s highest revenue generators, among the top three in 2015. When she complained, the firm’s all-male management told her to “behave,” according to the complaint.
Among other things, Ribeiro alleges Sedgwick routinely promotes men at a higher rate than women and that many of those men are less qualified than the women who are not promoted. “Yet these men are Sedgwick’s core, a brotherhood with control over compensation and promotion,” the complaint says.
A representative for Sedgwick did not respond to a request for comment about the allegations.
Parts of the complaint, including how much revenue Ribeiro generated, the names of some partners who were promoted and other machinations of Sedgwick’s executive committee were redacted.
First filed in July, Ribeiro’s claims were moved from state court to federal court before landing in arbitration, where they are being heard now by JAMS’ Robert Baines, a retired California state judge based in the Bay Area. Sanford, who is joining J. Bryan Wood on the case, told Big Law Business he came on board after Ribeiro reached out to his firm.
For his part, Sanford, of Sanford Heisler, has made headlines in past months during his public clashes with leadership at Chadbourne & Parke, which has accused him of conducting a “nationwide smear campaign” through his representation of current partner Kerrie Campbell and former partner Jaroslawa Johnson. The two women are leading a proposed class-action alleging the firm denies its female attorneys equal pay.
In a statement Wednesday, Sanford’s firm placed the Sedgwick complaint squarely within the broader context of Big Law, and the amended complaint itself devotes two pages to systemic gender inequity in the legal industry.
“Yet even in a field where inequities between male and female attorneys persist, Sedgwick stands out for its culture of discrimination against female attorneys,” the complaint says.
Sanford, who previously litigated gender discrimination class actions against KPMG and Greenberg Traurig, has never been shy about calling out gender disparities in the legal industry. In an early 2016 interview with AmLaw about the KPMG suit, he said gender discrimination is “fairly rampant within the legal profession. It’s a dirty little secret.”