Posted March 23rd, 2017.
By Stephanie Russell-Kraft
Mary Yelenick, a Chadbourne & Parke lawyer who recently joined a gender discrimination suit against the firm, claims she and other female partners were pressured to sign a letter disavowing the lawsuit.
In a sworn declaration filed in Manhattan federal court on Thursday, Yelenick said Abbe Lowell, head of the firm’s litigation practice and a named defendant in the suit, called her after she declined to join with other female partners at the firm who signed such a letter last September. Yelenick did not say Lowell pressured her to sign the letter, but that he said he was aware of her decision not to sign.
“I was surprised that Mr. Lowell even knew about the letter and I wondered how and why he had been apprised of its content,” Yelenick wrote in her declaration. Yelenick, who retired from the firm’s partnership in December, is currently Of Counsel.
Lowell, who is the head of Chadbourne’s litigation department, declined to comment.
A Chadbourne spokesman said in a statement that “no one in firm leadership pressured Ms. Yelnick or any other female partner to sign the letter… These are just a few of the many inaccuracies that plague plaintiffs’ filings with the court.”
Signed by fourteen of the then-sixteen female partners at the firm, the letter was released publicly and accused the plaintiffs’ counsel, David Sanford, of being “patronizing and patriarchal” by filing his suit without speaking to all of them first.
In a public response, Sanford said he did not contact other female partners at Chadbourne due to bar rules that prohibit soliciting clients.
Yelenick is the latest of three named plaintiffs in the proposed collective action, having joined last month. Kerrie Campbell, who is still a partner at the firm, sued Chadbourne in August alleging she was underpaid $2.7 million over the course of two years. She was joined in the fall by Jaroslawa Johnson, a former partner who managed Chadbourne’s now-defunct Kiev office.
In her declaration, Yelenick said she was first asked to sign the letter to disavow the lawsuit by Joy Langford, head of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. Yelenick said she chose not to sign because she “disagreed strongly with its content.”
“I informed Ms. Langford that the letter contained inaccuracies and mischaracterized the process by which female partners at the firm could join any potential class or collective action certified by the court,” Yelenick wrote.
A day or two after her phone call with Lowell, Yelenick said she was asked to attend an in-person meeting of all female partners to discuss the lawsuit. Yelenick, who was not in New York at the time, offered to call in, but was told by managing partner Andrew Giaccia that she didn’t need to, according to her declaration. During the meeting, Langford asked all female partners to sign the letter to Sanford, Yelenick said.
Yelenick and Kerrie Campbell, who first brought the suit, were the only female partners who did not sign. But Yelenick said she wasn’t the only one with reservations. “At least two of the partners who signed the letter subsequently expressed to me that they hesitated, but felt great pressure to sign the letter,” Yelenick said in the court filing.
Outside of saying that no firm leaders pressured anyone to sign the letter, a spokesperson for Chadbourne also disagreed with Yelenick’s chronology of events leading to the letter-signing. According to the firm, the internal meeting was held “days after” the letter was sent.
The firm also took issue with Yelenick’s declaration that the firm’s conduct in the wake of the lawsuit has had a chilling effect on other potential plaintiffs. After Yelenick joined the suit, the firm issued a statement calling her allegations “erroneous, self-serving, and baseless.” That conduct, along with public statements about Campbell, she said, have sent “a message that Chadbourne not only feels aggrieved by women who join the case but will act on its impulses by lashing out and making life unpleasant for them.”
“It is all too telling that when the firm points out the truth about plaintiffs’ misstatements, plaintiffs’ response is to complain that the firm is ‘lashing out,’” the Chadbourne spokesperson said Thursday. “Plaintiffs can keep making as many false claims as there is paper to put them on, but it does not make any of them correct.”