Law Firms

Jones Day can be sued for retaliation over press release statements, judge rules in former associates' suit

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A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has allowed two former Jones Day associates to add a claim to their bias lawsuit that the law firm retaliated against them through a press release.

In a Feb. 11 decision, U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss of the District of Columbia allowed former associates Julia Sheketoff and Mark Savignac to add the claim, according to Thomson Reuters Legal, Bloomberg Law and Law360.

The plaintiffs allege that the press release is “false, disingenuous, willfully misleading, and calculated to deceive the reader,” according to Thomson Reuters Legal.

Sheketoff and Savignac, who are married to each other, had alleged in their August 2019 lawsuit that the firm’s parental leave policy discriminates against fathers by offering them eight fewer weeks of paid leave than mothers get.

Savignac had alleged that he was fired for opposing the parental leave policy. And Sheketoff had alleged that she was paid less than similarly situated male associates in violation of the Equal Pay Act.

The plaintiffs allege that the Jones Day press release, issued in August 2019, falsely asserted that Savignac was not fired for opposing the parental leave policy and falsely said he showed “poor judgment, a lack of courtesy to his colleagues, personal immaturity, and a disinterest in pursuing his career at Jones Day.”

The plaintiffs also said the law firm falsely said Sheketoff’s claims were not made in good faith, her billable hours were below expectations, and she falsely created the impression that the firm had doctored her website photo to conform to white standards of female beauty.

The law firm said it published the press release to defend its reputation from the plaintiffs’ well-publicized attack on the firm.

Moss acknowledged that the plaintiffs delayed their request to add the retaliation claim for nearly a year. But he said allowing the claim doesn’t create undue prejudice because the litigation is at an early stage. Nor can he conclude, at this point, that adding the retaliation claim would be futile because the plaintiffs won’t be able to prevail, Moss said.

“The court cannot, at this early stage of the proceeding, simply reject plaintiffs’ factual allegations that defendants’ broad dissemination of the press statement has caused and is likely to continue to cause significant damage to their professional reputations, above and beyond the filings and arguments made in this case,” Moss said.

In September 2020, Moss had tossed Sheketoff’s Equal Pay Act claim and Savignac’s claim that Jones Day violated the Family and Medical Leave Act when it fired him while he was on family leave. Moss has not yet ruled on a motion to reconsider, according to Thomson Reuters Legal.

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