Biglaw Pay Discrimination Case Adds A New Plaintiff

Oct 20

As it appeared on Above the Law
Another partner backs up the claims of gender discrimination.

Writing about all the interesting twists and turns in the recent spate of Biglaw partner gender-discrimination cases has become its own cottage industry. Not that I am complaining — anything that shines light on the closed-door partner compensation process that, coincidentally, winds up with women partners making 44 percent less than their male counterparts seems like a good thing to me.

Now comes word that the $100 million purported class action lawsuit against Chadbourne & Parke has gotten another named plaintiff. This is especially important since shortly after Kerrie Campbell, the suit’s original sole plaintiff, filed the complaint, a slew of current and former women Chadbourne partners came out of the woodwork to claim there was no discrimination at their firm.

But now Jaroslawa Zelinsky Johnson, a former Chadbourne equity partner who headed up the firm’s Kiev office, is backing up Campbell’s claims. As American Lawyer reports:

“I read [Campbell’s suit] and it brought back a flood of memories—the disparity in compensation continues,” said Johnson, noting that she does not know Campbell personally. “I’m not by nature a litigious person, but [joining this case] was an opportunity to help the next generation of women lawyers. That’s why I’m doing this.”

That is certainly lofty language, but even Johnson admits she wasn’t much of a rainmaker at the firm. We’ve seen repeatedly that getting origination credit for clients is key to a big payday. But Johnson says overall the compensation criteria were inequitably applied:

“There was definitely favoritism in how [compensation] was determined,” said Johnson, noting that she was frequently ranked as one of the top Western lawyers in Ukraine. “You had five men on the management committee making all the decisions and never explaining them. I would never get a rate uplift.”
Several female partners were also de-equitized in recent years at Chadbourne, Johnson said. The American Lawyer reported in late 2013 on a suit against Chadbourne filed by former arbitration partner Melanie Willems in London over the return of $127,000 in capital.

As with the other allegations in this suit, the firm denies the allegations:

Chadbourne claims that Johnson’s allegations are without merit and that the firm’s decision to exit Ukraine was the result of a deteriorating situation in a country where the demand for high-end legal services had shriveled, a development previously covered by The American Lawyer.

“Ms. Johnson was the equity partner in charge of our office in Kiev. Chadbourne closed its office in the Ukraine in 2014 after a number of money-losing years made worse by political turmoil and a challenging economic climate,” said a statement by a firm spokesman. “As previously stated, Chadbourne categorically denies all of the suit’s allegations against the firm, including the charges of gender discrimination.”

As the case is still in the very early stages, it’s impossible to yet discern what actually happened. But getting to look at the making of the Biglaw partner compensation sausage sure is fascinating.

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