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Akin treated bias plaintiff more favorably, at least once, because of her race, 2nd Circuit says

Posted Jan 28, 2013 7:15 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An associate who attributed her 2009 layoff to racial bias won’t be able to pursue her lawsuit against Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

The New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld dismissal of the suit by Tameka Simmons, who had claimed the economic reasons cited for her dismissal were only pretextual. The appeals court did not agree.

“The undisputed facts below showed that the firm—like many other law firms throughout the country—was experiencing significant economic difficulties in 2009,” the appeals court said in a summary order (PDF) issued Thursday. In March 2009, the firm laid off 47 lawyers in its major U.S. offices, including seven in the New York Investment Funds Practice Group where Simmons worked. In April 2009 the firm announced deferred associate start dates. In September 2009 Simmons was informed she would lose her job by the end of the year.

“No reasonable jury could have found, on this record, that Simmons was selected for the reduction-in-force at least in part because of her race,” the appeals court said. “Indeed, the undisputed facts show that, at least in one instance, the firm treated her more favorably because of her race, as it delayed discharging her (by removing her from the March 2009 termination list) at least in part in the interest of diversity.”

Simmons had claimed Akin Gump "showcased" her at minority events to create a false image of diversity, even as it was transferring her assignments to white lawyers. According to her suit, the firm had promised training and mentoring when it recruited her from Debevoise & Plimpton, but did not deliver on its promises.

Hat tip to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.).

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