Law Firms

Firms Err When They Treat Pregnant Lawyers 'as Bellies,' Lawyer Says

A Boston associate who filed bias and retaliation claims against her law firm, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, is one of several Massachusetts lawyers who have filed discrimination complaints against their firms.

Lawyer Kamee Verdrager filed the claim with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination following a complaint from a male partner who said the new mother was not putting in enough hours, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reports. She claims she was treated differently than male lawyers at the firm because of her gender and her status as a mother, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reports in a separate story. Verdrager had filed two claims of bias internally with the firm before going to the commission.

The law firm claims Verdrager had performance problems and it did not discriminate.

In another case, the publication says a lawyer received a $100,000 award from the commission in a judgment against her firm, Wynn & Wynn. She had claimed the managing partner said in a 1991 meeting that he would not have hired her if he had known she was pregnant.

In another, a lawyer claimed Goodwin Procter rejected her for partnership because she had taken maternity leave. She claimed a female lawyer at the firm had claimed it was not realistic for female lawyers to “have it all.”

In the Verdrager case, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly quotes from an e-mail by partner Donald Schroeder that criticizes Verdrager.

“If I delegate work to an eighth-year associate, I do not expect to have to double-check the work,” it reads. It also criticizes Verdrager, who recently returned from maternity leave, for coming in at 9:30 a.m. and leaving no later than 5:30 p.m.

Soon afterward, Verdrager was given the choice of accepting a two-year demotion or being fired. She chose the demotion.

Employment lawyer Ellen Messing told Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly that her firm has represented several female attorneys alleging employment bias, and they often settle. Pregnancy discrimination cases are often easier to prove, she said.

“There tends to be a before-and-after picture where people report that they are treated as professionals until it is known or evident that they are pregnant,” she says. “And then they are treated as bellies.”

A hat tip to Above the Law, which posted the story.

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