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Lawyer Who Says She Was Chastised for Not Being Sweet Is Allowed to Sue

Posted Aug 5, 2008 8:21 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal judge in Manhattan says a managing partner’s remark that a female lawyer wasn’t sweet enough could be construed as discriminatory animus supporting the woman’s bias and retaliation suit.

The ruling allows fired lawyer Catriona Collins to proceed with her suit against intellectual property law firm Cohen Pontani Lieberman & Pavane, the New York Law Journal reports. Collins alleges the firm’s managing partner, Martin Pavane, said she was being insufficiently sweet in dealing with a paralegal.

"A reasonable jury could find that Pavane's statement indicates that (1) he holds stereotypes that women should be 'sweet' and non-aggressive, and (2) that Pavane believed that plaintiff did not fit this stereotype," Judge Kimba Wood wrote in the July 30 opinion (PDF).

Collins alleges she was told she would never become a partner because male partners were “uncomfortable” with her, according to the story.

The law firm says it fired Collins for sending “insulting and unprofessional" e-mails on Sept. 18, 2003, to lawyers and paralegals, and that she had a history of clashing with others at the firm.

But Wood said some evidence suggests the firm decided to fire Collins for an e-mail sent two days before in which she said the firm was “behind the times” because it was not giving enough responsibility to women lawyers. The e-mail concluded that women lawyers at the firm were being "relegated to non-partnership track support roles."

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