Law Firms

Judge Tosses Suit Claiming Covington Failed to Promote from Staff Attorney Ghetto

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has tossed a lawsuit claiming Covington & Burling created a staff attorney ghetto filled with minorities and failed to consider them for promotions.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton granted summary judgment to the law firm in an opinion (PDF) released Tuesday.

The African-American plaintiff, Yolanda Young, was hired in 2005 as a staff attorney reviewing documents in large litigation. She was among eight staff lawyers fired in 2007 in layoffs based on associate evaluations and hours billed.

None of the staff lawyers was ever promoted to associate, counsel or partner, according to evidence in the suit. But the failure to promote claim must fail, Walton said, because there is no evidence Young ever applied for, or was qualified for, a promotion to a non-staff attorney position. Her disparate impact claim also must fail because of the qualification issue, Walton said. Staff lawyers were hired based on prior document review experience, while associates needed different capabilities.

Young’s allegations of a hostile work environment also fail, Walton said, because she only complained about one of the alleged incidents—in which a white employee read aloud racial slurs from Wikipedia—and management responded immediately. He also dismissed Young’s claims of retaliation and wrongful firing.

The law firm issued this statement: “After carefully reviewing all the evidence in the record, and doing so in the light most favorable to Ms. Young, the court concluded that none of her many claims has any merit. We are gratified by the ruling and regret that a number of our employees and attorneys were the subject of unfair and unfounded accusations.”

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