Ogletree Looks To Gut Ex-Shareholder’s Sex Bias Suit

Posted January 23rd, 2019.

As It Appeared On

By Adam Lidgett

Law360 (January 23, 2019, 8:29 PM EST) — Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC wants a California federal court to kick the bulk of a former firm shareholder’s gender discrimination lawsuit to arbitration, saying she was bound by an arbitration pact even though she didn’t sign it.

On Tuesday, Ogletree lodged a motion to compel Dawn Knepper — now a shareholder at Buchalter PC — to arbitrate her individual claims, less than two weeks after a federal judge transferred Knepper’s proposed class action from California’s Northern District to the Central District. A claim Knepper made under the state’s Private Attorneys General Act should be stayed while arbitration plays out, the firm added.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick found earlier this month that Knepper knew she had received the arbitration agreement and also that the agreement still applied even if she didn’t sign it, and the judge was right on both fronts, Ogletree argued.

“Contract formation occurred not by any signature, but by continuing to work,” Ogletree said. “Judge Orrick explained that Knepper was advised in three separate places that signing the agreement was only necessary to acknowledge receipt of the materials, not to assent to them.”

Knepper claimed that Ogletree, where she was a nonequity shareholder, has a disproportionately male leadership team that favors men over women. Her suit said that Ogletree has fostered a male-dominated culture in which male shareholders are “grossly over-represented” at the top tier of its management structure.

The firm said Tuesday that the arbitration agreement it’s asserting had a class and collective action waiver. Those waivers, the firm argued, have been recognized as enforceable by not only the California Supreme Court but also the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ogletree also shot back at Knepper’s attempt to file a second amended complaint, saying that three of the four plaintiffs she is trying to add didn’t actually work at the firm’s California offices.

David Sanford of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP, an attorney for Knepper, said in a statement, “We will continue our fight against Ogletree’s system of compensation and promotion, despite Ogletree’s latest efforts to dispute procedural matters rather than address the merits of Ms. Knepper’s firmwide case of gender discrimination.”

Knepper’s suit is one of a handful of pending cases alleging that BigLaw firms discriminate against their female attorneys by paying them less than men and limiting their advancement.

An Ogletree representative commented that the brief spoke for itself.

Knepper is represented by David Sanford, Ed Chapin, Jill Sanford, Danielle Fuschetti Sr. and Leigh Anne St. Charles of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP, and Aashish Y. Desai of the Desai Law Firm PC.

Ogletree is represented by Nancy L. Abell, Deborah S. Weiser, Valerie M. Marek and Paul W. Cane Jr. of Paul Hastings LLP.

The case is Dawn Knepper v. Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC, case number 8:19-cv-00060, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

–Additional reporting by Braden Campbell, Emma Cueto and Vin Gurrieri. Editing by Breda Lund.

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