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Fired Associate Sues Akin Gump, Alleging Bias and NALP Lie

Posted Dec 6, 2010 7:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An African-American associate laid off from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld claims the law "showcased" her at minority events to create a false image of diversity, even as it was transferring her assignments to white lawyers.

The racial discrimination suit by Tameka Simmons claims the firm cited pretextual economic reasons for her 2009 layoff, the New York Law Journal reports. Simmons says she was the only female black associate in Akin Gump’s New York office at the time of her layoff, even though the firm told NALP there were four black female lawyers there.

Simmons said Akin Gump had promised training and mentoring when it recruited her from Debevoise & Plimpton, along with a transfer to the office in Washington, D.C., where her husband works, after one year. According to Simmons, the firm did not deliver on its promise.

Simmons says she received a positive performance review in October 2008, but was warned a few months later that her job was in jeopardy because she wasn’t aggressive enough in seeking work assignments, she had too few clients and her health-related absences had been too extensive. "It quickly became clear that these new criticisms were pretextual," Simmons wrote. Her billable hours, she said, were on par with those of other associates.

She also alleged one London-based partner assigned to work with her had called her “stupid” and other names. “Instead of treating her as the star recruit she was,” the suit says, “Akin Gump assigned Simmons to work with a notoriously difficult partner in a foreign office and denied her the mentoring, training, level of work, and supervision that she had been promised and that were routinely accorded to white associates,” according to the federal lawsuit (PDF posted by the New York Law Journal) filed in Manhattan.

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