Partner Reloads in $200M Sedgwick Sex Bias Case

Posted January 11th, 2017.

As it appeared on The Recorder

Scott Flaherty, The Recorder

A female Sedgwick partner alleging gender bias against the firm has beefed up her claims, adding a bid for $200 million in damages and an updated legal team led by David Sanford of the class action firm Sanford Heisler.

Traci Ribeiro, a nonequity insurance partner in Sedgwick’s Chicago office, filed an amended complaint on Wednesday before a JAMS arbitrator who is hearing the case after it was initially filed in California state court and later removed to federal court in San Francisco. U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California ruled in November that the federal case should be put on hold in favor of arbitration, although he previously lamented that the claims were headed for a forum with limited discovery and appellate review.

Ribeiro alleges that she and other women have been passed over for promotion into the equity partnership ranks at Sedgwick, an Am Law 200 firm, despite outperforming male colleagues who did become equity partners.

“Female attorneys at Sedgwick regularly receive less compensation than similarly situated male attorneys,” the amended complaint said. “This pay disparity is the direct result of Sedgwick’s male-dominated firm leadership, and its failure to promote women to the equity partnership.”

Sanford and his firm were retained in November to serve as lead counsel for Ribeiro. Their new complaint was filed in the form of counterclaims because Sedgwick brought the arbitration proceeding against Ribeiro after she sued in court. J. Bryan Wood of The Wood Law Office in Chicago, who has represented Ribeiro since the beginning of the litigation, joined Sanford Heisler on the amended complaint.

“Ms. Ribeiro is the perfect example of an outstanding employee who—because of her gender—has been denied fair compensation, equity status, and proper recognition,” Sanford said in a statement.

Nick Geannacopulos, a Seyfarth Shaw lawyer defending Sedgwick, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. Neither did Sedgwick spokesman Craig Peterson.

Wednesday’s filing largely parallels Ribeiro’s original complaint, which alleged that Sedgwick violated federal and state equal pay laws and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But Wednesday’s filing refines the proposed class action to include subclasses of female lawyers in California and Illinois. It also seeks specific damages of $200 million and adds some new allegations, including a claim that Sedgwick’s alleged systemic bias against the proposed California class unjustly enriched the law firm and violated California’s Unfair Competition Law.

For Sanford, the case provides another high-profile and potentially lucrative opportunity to combat alleged sex discrimination at large law firms.

Sanford and his firm also represent female current and former partners at Chadbourne & Parke in a proposed $100 million class action in Manhattan federal court. Named plaintiffs Kerrie Campbell, a current litigation partner, and Jaroslawa Zelinsky Johnson, former Kiev office managing partner, allege that Chadbourne is run by an all-male management committee that pays women partners less and offers them fewer leadership opportunities than men.

In November, Chadbourne sought to have that case thrown out, arguing that because Campbell and Johnson were equity partners and owners, they can’t sue under anti-discrimination laws. But Sanford fired back this week, maintaining in a response on Monday that Chadbourne’s dismissal bid was premature.

Last month another law firm, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, announced that it had reached a settlement in a gender bias suit brought against it by a female former associate. Sanford Heisler wasn’t involved in that case.

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