Partner Won’t Have to Arbitrate Bias Claim against Law Firm, 3rd Circuit Rules
Posted Mar 27, 2009 11:23 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A federal appeals court has ruled a female partner doesn’t have to arbitrate her sexual discrimination claim against Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, despite an arbitration clause in the firm’s bylaws.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Philadelphia refused to require arbitration of the suit by partner Alyson Kirleis because she never signed an arbitration agreement incorporating the bylaw providing for arbitration, the Legal Intelligencer reports. "Under Pennsylvania law, explicit agreement is essential to the formation of an enforceable arbitration contract," the appeals court said in its opinion (PDF).
Kirleis claims the Pittsburgh law firm pays women less than men and has a separate and lower employment track for female lawyers with children, according to the story. She alleges that one male partner told her that clients only wanted "gray-haired guys" trying their cases, and the role of women lawyers was to ready the suits for trial. And she says another partner criticized her for not spending enough time with her children and husband.
Kirleis also says the firm’s annual holiday party is essentially off-limits for women because of the sexually explicit nature of skits, songs and props.