Ex-Associate Claims Mayer Brown Used Her as ‘Marketing Tool’
Posted Jun 12, 2009 8:19 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
An African-American former associate at Mayer Brown’s office in Charlotte, N.C., has filed a discrimination suit that claims the law firm used her as a “marketing tool” before firing her in 2008.
Former associate Venus Yvette Springs, a magna cum laude graduate of Duke Law School, alleges that when she was hired in 2007 there were only two other African-Americans at the firm’s Charlotte office and no others in the real estate practice group where she worked. Above the Law was the first to post news of the lawsuit (PDF posted by Above the Law).
“Springs was hired, in whole or in part, because the Charlotte office needed to increase its number of African-American attorneys,” the suit says. “Upon information and belief, firm documents refer to the hiring of an African-American as a ‘marketing tool.’ Springs was used as a marketing tool, asked to attend on behalf of Mayer Brown bar and other functions where diversity would be perceived as a positive. As discussed below, the need for diversity gave way to the firm’s underlying discriminatory culture and practices.”
Springs says that at the time of her hiring, she was promised that she would be able to work from home after school hours because of child care commitments. The firm later changed its mind, the suit says. The suit terms the decision to be “race-based harassment” and also cites other actions that hampered her professional growth and paycheck. They included a refusal to provide the usual support staff, exclusion from client lunches, and a refusal to count pro bono hours toward a bonus calculation, despite a commitment to her to do so.
Springs says she was fired despite high marks from her superiors in part to make way for a white female employee hired to bring in business from Bank of America.
A statement provided to Above the Law by Mayer Brown says: “Mayer Brown has not yet been served with the complaint filed by former employee Yvette Springs. However, based on our current review, we believe her claims have no merit. We will defend ourselves vigorously in this matter. Consistent with our policy of not commenting on personnel matters or pending litigation, we have nothing further to say.”