Posted October 5th, 2011.
By Abigail Rubenstein
Law360, New York (October 05, 2011, 1:00 PM ET) –Proskauer Rose LLP’s former chief financial officer slapped the employment defense powerhouse with a sex discrimination lawsuit Wednesday, claiming she was marginalized and ultimately fired after taking medical leave for breast cancer treatment.
Attorneys for Elly Rosenthal, who served as Proskauer’s CFO for 16 years, filed a complaint in New York state court alleging that despite never receiving single negative review from the firm and her successful stewardship of the law firm’s finances, she was demoted and then terminated when she returned to work from medical leave in the fall of 2008.
“As the website of the law firm Proskauer Rose proudly proclaims, for more than seventy years the firm has been ‘synonymous with labor law’ — on the side of the country’s ‘largest employers’,” the complaint said. “Unfortunately for Elly Rosenthal … this management-side experience has served the firm all too well.”
The suit asserts that despite the firm’s touting its commitment to diversity, women are “conspicuously absent” from Proskauer’s leadership ranks.
A mere 15 percent of Proskauer’s partners are women, while in the back office the key financial and administrative positions are held by men, according to the complaint.
Rosenthal, a certified public accountant, was hired as the law firm’s CFO in 1992 and kept the post until September 2008, when she returned from medical leave and was promptly demoted to a position that had not previously existed called “chief administrative financial officer,” the suit alleges.
During her tenure as CFO, Rosenthal managed global financial operations for the firm and oversaw a staff of 70 employees, while the firm took in $675 million in annual revenue, the complaint contends. In her final five years at Proskauer, profits per partner increased by 40 percent, according to the suit.
Rosenthal says she received treatment for breast cancer, including multiple surgeries, and initially returned to work just a few weeks after her final surgery before deciding to take another three months of medical leave after the firm’s chairman allegedly told her, “There will always be a place for you” at Proskauer.
The lawsuit maintains that when she returned from leave she was demoted, and the CFO job was handed to a less qualified man.
The complaint further alleges that upon her return male supervisors and colleagues, including Proskauer’s chief operating officer, engaged in a campaign to marginalize Rosenthal and force her out of the firm by failing to provide her with important information, moving her office to one eight blocks from the firm’s Times Square headquarters, and refusing to pay her a bonus or merit pay.
Finally, on March 11, after more than 18 years of service to the firm, Rosenthal was abruptly fired and told to vacate her office in three days, the complaint contends.
The suit claims the firm’s behavior constitutes discrimination based on Rosenthal’s gender and an actual or perceived disability, in violation of both New York state and New York City labor laws.
Rosenthal seeks $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
David Sanford of Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP, who represents Rosenthal, told Law360 that his client had unsuccessfully tried to resolve the matter with the firm before filing suit.
“The suit was filed as a matter of last resort, not first,” Rosenthal said. “But we’re hopeful that at the end of this process, which we expect will take 12 to 18 months, a jury of Ms. Rosenthal’s peers in New York City will find Proskauer’s behavior as reprehensible as we have.”
A Proskauer spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rosenthal is represented by David Sanford, Lubna Alum, Steven L. Wittels, Jeremy Heisler and Deborah Marcuse of Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP.
Counsel information for Proskauer was not immediately available.
The case is Elly Rosenthal v. Proskauer Rose, case number 11-111343, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York.
–Editing by Eydie Cubarrubia.