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Former Proskauer CFO Files Bias Suit Claiming She Was Marginalized and Fired After Cancer Leave

Posted Oct 5, 2011 9:57 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: The former chief financial officer of Proskauer Rose in New York City claims in a lawsuit that she was demoted after returning from medical leave for breast cancer treatment, marginalized by her superiors and then “abruptly” fired about two years later.

The suit was filed today in New York state court by former CFO Elly Rosenthal, who says she never had a single negative review during her entire time at the firm, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports. The suit (PDF posted by the Law Blog) claims discrimination based on gender, age and actual or perceived disability. Rosenthal, 57, had worked at Proskauer for more than 18 years.

Rosenthal’s replacement as CFO, Jim Barbaria, had originally reported to her and during that period had “defied her authority,” the suit alleges. He is not a certified public accountant and had never headed a finance department before he got the position, the suit says.

After her demotion, the suit says, Rosenthal was advised to “intensely focus on radically changing the way we do things.” But when she proposed a new system for ebilling, Barbaria refused to fund the proposal, even though it had won approval by firm management, the suit contends.

The suit notes that Proskauer touts its management-side labor law expertise and says the experience “has served the firm all too well.”

“Women are conspicuously absent from Proskauer’s leadership ranks,” the suit says. “Although Proskauer’s website proclaims a commitment to the goals of ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘diversity,’ of the approximately 260 partners listed on the firm’s website, about 40—a mere 15 percent—are women. In the back office, males currently hold the key financial and administrative positions.”

In a statement emailed to the ABA Journal Thursday, Proskauer said it was disappointed to learn of the suit.

"Any assertion that Ms. Rosenthal’s employment was affected because of her gender, age or claimed disability is meritless," the firm maintained. "Many of our high-level managerial and administrative positions are held by women over the age of 50 and we have steadfastly supported our colleagues who have suffered illnesses or otherwise needed accommodation related to disability. We regret that Ms. Rosenthal has taken this step but we are confident that our actions will be vindicated by an independent decision maker."

Last updated Oct. 6 to include a statement from the firm.

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