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Gender bias suit against Lewis Brisbois cites 'sycophantic' attorney favoritism, 'systemic business deficiencies'

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According to a lawsuit filed last week, “systemic business deficiencies” rooted in mismanagement at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith had a disparate impact on a female former partner suing the law firm for alleged bias. (Photo from Shutterstock)

"Systemic business deficiencies" rooted in mismanagement at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith had a disparate impact on a female former partner suing the law firm for alleged bias, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

Former partner Julie O’Dell alleged that female partners at the firm were not given appropriate compensation for rainmaking and for managing complex cases. When O’Dell complained about “multiple deficiencies” with billing, accounting and firm administration, the firm retaliated by trying to claw back compensation, the April 18 suit alleges.

“The firm maintained a pattern and practice of discriminating against female attorneys,” the suit says, “including, but not limited to, telling females they should smile more, refusing to pay a bonus to females for taking maternity leave, and refusing to make certain females partners because of their family decisions.”

The suit says the billing problems included “tens of millions of dollars that went uninvoiced for attorney work performed, monies received that had not been applied to client matters, and retainer fees that may have not been properly credited and returned to clients.”

Reuters and Law360 have coverage.

O’Dell’s suit, filed in Los Angeles superior court, follows a March 19 bias suit filed against the firm by lawyer Robert Lofton. He had alleged that Lewis Brisbois discriminated against him based on his race and his “life-threatening health conditions.”

Both suits cited slurs and offensive language used by two partners who left Lewis Brisbois to start a new firm in June 2023.

O’Dell began work at Lewis Brisbois in March 2019 and left at the end of January 2023. She was “purportedly elevated” to equity partner in January 2022, but she was never treated as a bona fide equity partner, the suit says. She was paid “significantly less” than her male counterparts, despite generating more revenue, billing more hours and contributing more to the firm’s marketing efforts, the suit says.

O’Dell says she learned that Lewis Brisbois chairman and founding partner Robert “Bob” Lewis dominated decision-making and exercised total control over equity partners’ compensation.

“Plaintiff, together with other female attorneys similarly situated, were treated differently than sycophantic attorneys who ingratiated themselves with Mr. Lewis and his closest allies in the firm,” the suit alleges.

“Upon information and belief,” the suit says, “Bob Lewis awarded substantial points to his family members and equity partners with whom he either had a long-standing relationship and/or with whom he wanted to engender continued loyalty to him, resulting in those individuals being treated preferentially from other so-called equity partners, including plaintiff. Many of these preferred individuals were male and received compensation grossly in excess of the revenues they generated for the law firm.”

The suit alleges discrimination, retaliation, infliction of emotional distress, failure to reimburse business expenses and unfair business practices.

Lewis Brisbois general counsel Jana Lubert told Reuters that the firm has filed an arbitration demand against O’Dell because she owes the firm “a significant six-figure amount.”

“We are deeply disappointed Ms. O’Dell is resorting to baseless gender discrimination against Lewis Brisbois as a means of elevating her lawsuit and obfuscating her contractual obligations to Lewis Brisbois,” Lubert told Reuters in a statement.

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