Sanford Prepping New Gender Bias Suit Against Jones Day

Posted January 3rd, 2019.

As It Appeared On
Law360

By Braden Campbell

Law360 (January 3, 2019, 7:42 PM EST) — Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP — which has already filed gender discrimination suits against Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC, Jones Day and Morrison & Foerster LLP — is readying a new, nationwide class suit on behalf of female Jones Day associates, Sanford Heisler chairman David Sanford told Law360 on Thursday.

Sanford Heisler chairman David Sanford said his firm will file a federal suit in February alleging Jones Day treats female associates unfairly.

Sanford said his firm is aiming to file a federal suit next month claiming Jones Day mistreats its female associates. Sanford said the case is related to a suit his firm filed for ex-Jones Day partner Wendy Moore last summer alleging the firm uses a subjective performance evaluation system that favors men over women.

Moore filed her suit in San Francisco state court under California’s Private Attorneys General Act, which lets workers bring enforcement actions against their employers on the state’s behalf. Sanford told Law360 he could not discuss the status of the Moore suit, which was sealed months ago, citing “arbitration issues” and the suit’s procedural posture. But he hopes “to be able to say a lot more soon,” he said.

Sanford’s firm also represents the workers behind pending suits alleging Ogletree and Morrison & Foerster mistreat female attorneys, the former by empowering a mostly male leadership team that favors men and the latter by penalizing women for getting pregnant and having kids.

The Ogletree suit, which Sanford filed in January 2018 on behalf of then-partner Dawn Knepper, claims men are “grossly over-represented” at the top of the firm and that the firm systematically discriminates against female nonequity shareholders in pay and promotions.

The early stages of that litigation have been consumed by debate over whether to apply Ogletree’s policy directing employment-related disputes to arbitration.

In April, Ogletree asked the court to send the suit to the Central District of California per a provision in the arbitration agreement directing that employment claims be arbitrated there. Although Knepper did not sign the agreement, which Ogletree adopted while she worked there, the firm argued that it applies because it gave her a chance to opt out and she missed it. Knepper has argued the dispute should stay in court, claiming the agreement is invalid because the firm presented it in a misleading way and she didn’t sign it.

Sanford said Knepper’s suit is in a holding pattern until the court rules on Ogletree’s transfer motion. He said he expects the court to rule in the next few months.

The MoFo suit is not as far along. Three California associates sued the firm under Jane Doe pseudonyms in April alleging it gives fewer opportunities and lower pay to women who take parental or adoption leave or avail themselves of flexible work options aimed at working mothers. At the same time, the firm gives preferential treatment to men and women who don’t have kids, the attorneys claim.

The court has pushed back a case management hearing in the case a few times, and little else has happened. Sanford said his team may file an amended complaint against MoFo later this month, and that “more will happen” in the case after that.

“A lot of things will break in the first quarter of 2019 concerning Ogletree, concerning Jones Day and concerning MoFo,” Sanford told Law360.

A MoFo spokesperson said the firm rejects the allegations, calling them “inconsistent with our practices, policies, and values.”

“Our longstanding record of supporting and promoting women and parents is beyond dispute,” the spokesperson said.

Sanford also represents a former Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP attorney who filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing the firm of cultivating a “good old boys” culture in which male senior attorneys compete to sleep with female subordinates and leadership systematically suppresses women’s pay. Sanford said he hopes to resolve that dispute “within the next two weeks.”

All the plaintiffs are represented by David W. Sanford, Aimee Stewart, Deborah K. Marcuse, Ed Chapin, Jill Sullivan Sanford and Danielle Fuschetti of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.

Morrison & Foerster is represented by Catherine A. Conway of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Ogletree is represented by Nancy L. Abell, Deborah S. Weiser, Valerie M. Marek and Paul W. Cane Jr. of Paul Hastings LLP.

The cases are Wendy Moore v. Jones Day et al., case number CGC-18-567391, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Francisco; Jane Doe et al. v. Morrison & Foerster LLP, case number 3:18-cv-02542, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California; and Knepper v. Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC, case numbers 3:18-cv-00303 and 3:18-cv-00304, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

–Additional reporting by Vin Gurrieri, Emma Cueto and Matthew Guarnaccia. Editing by Brian Baresch and Aaron Pelc.

Update: This story has been updated with comment from Morrison & Foerster.

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