Posted August 3rd, 2017.
By Vin Gurrieri
Law360, New York (August 3, 2017, 6:33 PM EDT) — Norton Rose Fulbright was officially added as a named defendant Thursday in a $100 million gender discrimination suit brought by female attorneys at Chadbourne & Parke LLP, who alleged in part that Norton Rose “aided and abetted” Chadbourne in its discriminatory conduct after the firms’ merger was announced.
The second amended complaint came about a month after U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Moses said the lawsuit by recently expelled Chadbourne partner Kerrie Campbell and two other female Chadbourne lawyers could be amended to add Norton Rose as well as include additional allegations made by one of the other two lawyers, longtime Chadbourne partner Mary Yelenick.
In the amended complaint, the plaintiffs contended that Norton Rose, which absorbed Chadbourne earlier this year, should be held liable as a successor to Chadbourne for the claims made by the female attorneys in this case in part because Norton Rose had “ample notice” of the women’s claims, noting that their lawsuit was filed more than five months before the merger was announced in February.
Moreover, Campbell claimed that in the period between when the merger was announced and when it was consummated in late June, Norton Rose “aided and abetted” Chadbourne’s purportedly unlawful conduct “by communicating to Chadbourne that it should formally expel Campbell” from the firm’s partnership before the merger was finalized. That expulsion vote was held in late April.
“In fact, the transaction was not announced as finalized until after Chadbourne publicly announced that the firm would, and in fact did, expel Campbell from the firm,” the amended complaint said.
A spokesman who has represented Chadbourne referred Law360 on Thursday to a statement the firm issued in April just before the expulsion vote occurred. That statement said Campbell had been advised long before she filed suit that she should transfer her practice from Chadbourne “for good and sufficient reasons,” but that she didn’t do so.
Chadbourne’s April statement also said the time was right for the firm “to take the next step and hold a meeting of the partners to decide upon ending” Campbell’s participation in the partnership, an event the firm said “was entirely foreseeable and [that] Ms. Campbell was well aware for some time” would be forthcoming.
A representative of Norton Rose did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Campbell initially filed a lawsuit in August 2016, alleging that the firm’s male-dominated culture and management structure resulted in a gender disparity in pay and bonuses and in the exclusion of female partners from positions of authority.
After Campbell filed suit, former Kiev, Ukraine, managing partner Jaroslawa Johnson joined the case in October. Yelenick, a former product liability chair and 35-year veteran of the law firm, filed a consent to join the case in late February. Yelenick is retired from the partnership and is currently of counsel at Norton Rose.
Besides adding Norton Rose, the amended complaint also added allegations made by Yelenick, who claimed she had complained numerous times over the years to the firm’s management committee that she was underpaid but that those complaints were ignored. Yelenick also alleged that she and other women at the firm faced pressure from the firm to disavow Campbell’s lawsuit after it was first filed.
In general, the amended complaint alleged that Chadbourne’s management committee, which had been exclusively male for the firm’s entire 115-year history until its last year of operations, had complete control over the firm’s finances and operations, and it used practices, like a point system and origination credit system, that were either overtly discriminatory or had a disparate impact on female attorneys.
Alexandra Harwin, senior litigation counsel at Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP and an attorney for the women, said Thursday that “by adding the allegations of one of Chadbourne’s longest serving female partners, [the] plaintiffs’ amended complaint lays bare the long history of systemic gender discrimination at Chadbourne.”
“As plaintiffs allege, gender discrimination was Chadbourne’s standard operating procedure over the course of many years,” Harwin added. “Plaintiffs repeatedly raised concerns about gender disparities at the firm, yet Chadbourne’s management committee ignored or retaliated against them.
In June, U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken issued a multilayered ruling that in part denied Chadbourne’s motion for summary judgment, saying that some discovery was needed to determine the key question of whether the women qualify as “employees” who are protected by Title VII, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Equal Pay Act.
Judge Oetken also rejected Chadbourne’s motion to dismiss the female attorneys’ class and collective action allegations as well as a separate motion by Campbell to toss counterclaims made against her. Additionally, the judge rejected Campbell’s request for conditional certification of a collective action under the Equal Pay Act as part of his order.
The plaintiffs are represented by David Sanford, Jeremy Heisler, Andrew Melzer, Alexandra Harwin, Saba Bireda and Kevin H. Sharp of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.
Chadbourne has been represented by Kathleen McKenna, Evandro Cristiano Gigante and Rachel Sarah Fischer of Proskauer Rose LLP. The case docket does not indicate whether Norton Rose has separate attorneys.
The case is Campbell et al. v. Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP et al., case number 1:16-cv-06832, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
–Additional reporting by Braden Campbell. Editing by Sara Ziegler.