Posted March 15th, 2021.
By Chinekwu Osakwe
Barring a breakthrough in court-ordered settlement talks later this month, Morrison & Foerster is headed to trial in August to face claims that the firm discriminated against two former associates after they took maternity leave.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco set a trial date of Aug. 16 in a Friday ruling that trimmed some allegations brought by former Los Angeles associate Sherry William and former New York associate Joshua Ashley Klayman, but left the core of the already shrunken case alive.
William and Klayman allege Morrison & Foerster placed them on the “mommy track” after they became pregnant and took maternity leave, undermining opportunities for better pay and promotions.
Klayman claims her partnership consideration was deferred twice due to her maternity leave. She filed an internal complaint before eventually leaving the firm.
William claims when she arrived back from maternity leave, the partners in her practice group stopped assigning work to her. She says she was terminated for failing to meet billable hours requirements.
They are among seven female former associates who initially sued the firm in April 2018, seeking class action status and as much as $200 million in damages. Five of the plaintiffs withdrew their claims in December 2019, indicating they may have settled. The proposed class action claims have also been dropped.
Corley on Friday granted Morrison & Foerster’s summary judgment motion as to William’s claims of retaliation and violation of fair employment laws, and Klayman’s claims of retaliation and discrimination based on the denial of a promotion.
The judge refused to toss William’s claims of discrimination under Title VII and most of Klayman’s claims, including allegations that the firm violated federal and New York State equal pay laws.
Corley has urged the parties to reach an agreement to avoid trial. A settlement conference is set for March 26 before another magistrate judge.
Lawyers for Morrison & Foerster at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher referred requests for comment to their client, which declined to comment through a spokesperson.
Sanford Heisler Sharp is representing the former associates. Chairman David Sanford said the firm is eager for trial.
“We are confident that a jury will see what we see: Two hard-working attorneys whose stellar credentials and exceptional performance were not enough to overcome the impact of their maternity on their careers at MoFo,” he said in a statement.
The case is one of string of high-profile lawsuits Sanford Heisler has brought in recent years alleging gender discrimination at major law firms. One of those lawsuits, a 2019 case against Jones Day, was heavily whittled down last week when all but one of the former associate plaintiffs withdrew her claims.
The case is William, et al, v. Morrison & Foerster LLP, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, 3:18-cv-02452
For plaintiffs: Deborah Marcuse, Andrew Melzer, Carolin Guentert, Danielle Fuschetti, David Sanford, Edward Chapin and Jill Sanford of Sanford Heisler Sharp.
For defendants: Catherine Conway, Michele Maryott, Rachel Brass, Amanda Machin and Ronald Gomez, of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher