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$200M Class Action Claims ‘Boys Club’ at Greenberg Traurig Hogs Work and Origination Credit

Posted Dec 3, 2012 12:26 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A $200 million class action lawsuit filed on Monday claims women lawyers at Greenberg Traurig are undercompensated partly because of a “boys club” in which male lawyers hog origination credit, exclude women from client pitches and favor themselves in work assignments.

There is just one exception to policies favoring men, according to the lawsuit (PDF): “GT prioritizes, pays and promotes women who have intimate relationships with firm leaders or who acquiesce to sexualized stereotypes.”

The name plaintiff is former partner Francine Griesing, who claims she was fired in 2010 for her complaints about gender discrimination after she was denied compensation, promotions and support enjoyed by male shareholders, according to a press release. When Griesing complained to CEO Richard Rosenbaum at a restaurant meeting, the suit says, "he took a break from berating Ms. Griesing to insist on ordering her meal for her, based on his 'wife’s favorite' order."

The suit claims women at the firm’s Philadelphia office are compensated less than their male counterparts, are given less business-generating opportunities, and assigned lower titles. But the disparities “are neither coincidental nor limited to its Philadelphia office,” the suit says.

Rosenbaum makes all promotion and compensation decisions for every shareholder nationwide, the suit says, after he consults with “a centralized brotherhood” consisting of four other men on the firm’s compensation committee. The decisions are kept secret to shield them from review, the suit claims, in a process that lacks objective standards.

There are three partnership levels at Greenberg Traurig, the suit says, and women are routinely assigned to lower levels even as similarly or less-qualified men get higher-rung positions. The system of promotion lacks sufficient standards and transparency, the suit claims. “Moreover, a general animus towards women, fueled by gendered assumptions and stereotypes, permeates the decision-making process,” the suit alleges.

“The firm commonly and openly makes compensation decisions based on archaic assumptions that men were responsible for financially supporting a family,” the suit alleges. “GT senior leadership has explicitly justified compensation decisions with comments that male shareholders ‘needed it more’ or that male shareholders had ‘families to support.’ In contrast, at retreats the firm hosts for its lawyers, male management frequently make comments that female shareholders do not do as well as men because of their mothering and parenting duties.”

The suit says male shareholders share origination credit with one another in a “boys club,” and they are permitted to get duplicative credit for originations in a process that has a disproportionate impact on females. In addition, the suit says, male shareholders refuse to work on matters brought in by female lawyers unless they can share in the origination credit.

A firm policy that allows shareholders to determine which lawyers go to client pitches also works against women, the suit says, since male lawyers routinely invite men and exclude women. Women are also discriminated against in work assignments, which are routinely given to male shareholders, the suit says.

Male shareholders are even allowed to “monopolize staff and associates,” so that female shareholders are forced to handle support-staff work at the expense of billable hours, the suit claims.

“Even in a field dominated by archaic gender stereotypes,” the suit says, “GT stands out for its culture of discrimination against female attorneys. While the firm advertises a commitment to equal opportunity for female attorneys, the reality is far different.”

Greenberg Traurig issued a statement by Hilarie Bass, an executive committee member. “The lawsuit filed today by Francine Griesing and her attorneys is an affront to the accomplished, talented women of Greenberg Traurig, who, like all of our lawyers, are compensated based on merit," Bass said. "It is nothing more than a financially motivated publicity stunt without merit, backed by neither fact nor law.

“Griesing’s complaint paints a false picture of the work environment at Greenberg Traurig and the facts surrounding her initial claim to the EEOC. It totally misrepresents very limited EEOC findings that related to a small number of women in one office, in which Ms. Greising was the sole complainant.

"Griesing refused to submit her claim to arbitration as required by the firm’s shareholder agreement and instead filed in federal court. Accordingly, today the firm filed a petition in federal court in Philadelphia to compel arbitration.

“Greenberg Traurig has an exemplary record of fairness and advancement irrespective or gender, race or creed. Our history of recruiting, retaining, and promoting women and our law firm reflects that. The firm intends to vigorously defend our practices against her lawsuit and we fully expect to prevail.”

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