Posted November 10th, 2020.
By Emily Lever
Law360 (November 10, 2020, 7:00 PM EST) — Two former Morrison & Foerster LLP lawyers who claim they faced hostility for taking advantage of the company’s maternity leave policy hit back in California federal court at the firm’s claims they had not advanced because their performance was lacking.
In two heavily redacted motions in opposition to the firm’s bid to beat their suit, Joshua Ashley Klayman and Sherry William defended their performance at the firm and told the court Monday they were met with hostility for taking advantage of the company’s maternity leave policy.
“MoFo’s maternity leave policies, while purportedly generous and family-friendly, give with one hand and take with the other,” William said in her motion.
Klayman and William both say that they were praised by partners and supervisors, but were retaliated against for taking maternity leave and for then raising the issue with their human resources department. Both women were originally Jane Doe plaintiffs in a larger pregnancy discrimination suit against MoFo, but they refiled an amended complaint under their own names after the firm settled with the other Jane Does late last year.
“But for their gender and maternity, would MoFo have treated Ms. William and Ms. Klayman differently?” David W. Sanford, an attorney for Klayman and William, told Law360. “Based on the factual record set forth in detail in their oppositions to summary judgment, including the very different stories of some similarly situated male lawyers at MoFo, the answer is clear.”
Klayman said that contrary to the firm’s assertion, the reason for her lack of advancement was not that she had pursued a cryptocurrency practice despite the fact that it was not a good path to promotion. She had “glowing” performance reviews and was praised for her leadership in chairing and co-founding a cryptocurrency practice group, according to her motion.
But after telling Klayman that her work was partner-level, the company then denied her bid for partnership and hired a man from another firm as the partner in charge of the cryptocurrency group, according to the motion.
Klayman says she was retaliated against for taking maternity leave and strongly discouraged from actually taking advantage of that leave.
In its motion for dismissal, the firm said no one had made Klayman work through her maternity leave and that she had insisted upon it even though it was not permitted. But Klayman said her boss sent her thousands of emails throughout her maternity leave, following up with “??” if she did not respond after a few hours.
Klayman said she was also told she had been accused of “acting like a martyr” because she had mentioned that she was holding her baby on her lap while on a conference call.
Klayman resigned in 2018, saying she felt like she had no choice, and is now the U.S. head of Linklaters LLP’s fintech practice and head of the firm’s blockchain and digital assets.
William said she was warned when she first joined the project finance practice group at the firm that it was a tough place for parents. The person who gave that warning was in fact one of the people who allegedly punished William for being a parent, according to the suit.
William said that before her pregnancy, she had exceeded her billable hour targets and earned praise from clients and colleagues; then after she took maternity leave, everything changed.
“She was a high performer who was on track for success had she not, in the words of her supervising partner Jeffrey Chester, become ‘a mommy,'” the motion said.
After — and allegedly because — she took maternity leave, William did not get the raise and promotion that she was up for along with the rest of her class, according to her motion. William was not the only lawyer at the firm who did not meet their billable hour targets, but only she was reclassified, according to the motion.
In its previous motion, the firm said William arrived at the firm ill-prepared to deal with the specialized project finance practice and her performance was not up to snuff, attributing her lack of billable hours to the fact that her legal services were not sufficiently in demand from partners.
Following the denial of her promotion, William filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint with HR. Then, her supervising partners — one of whom had called her a “born leader” just a year earlier — froze her out, assigning her no work for a year and a half, William said.
The firm then fired her after she revealed she was one of the Jane Does in a gender discrimination lawsuit, with the firm saying she was fired for not billing enough hours.
Morrison & Foerster was not immediately available for comment.
The women are represented by David Sanford, Deborah Marcuse, Ed Chapin and Danielle Fuschetti of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.
Morrison & Foerster is represented by Rachel Brass, Michele Maryott, Lauren Blas, Ronald Gomez and Amanda Machin of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
The case is Sherry William et al. v. Morrison & Foerster LLP, case number 3:18-cv-02542, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
–Additional reporting by Vin Gurrieri. Editing by Alyssa Miller.