Kirkland & Ellis must face ex-associate's sex bias claims, federal court says
A lawsuit brought by a former associate at Kirkland & Ellis alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, California employment law and a San Francisco anti-bias ordinance. Image from Shutterstock.
A former associate in the intellectual property litigation group at Kirkland & Ellis in San Francisco can move forward with her sex discrimination lawsuit against the law firm, a federal judge in California ruled Wednesday.
Zoya Kovalenko filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in October 2022, alleging that male associates in her group at the firm were treated better and paid more money than her, even though they did similar work and had similar experience.
Among her specific claims, Kovalenko says Kirkland & Ellis gave her substantial work before scheduled travel on weekends and a vacation, even though supervisors were aware of her plans. The supervisors “did not show a similar disregard for male associates’ travel plans, holidays and planned time off,” the suit says.
Kovalenko also alleges in her suit that she was fired in September 2021 after complaining about disparate treatment and was then falsely told that poor performance was the reason that she was let go.
“Taking plaintiff’s allegations as true, she essentially alleges that defendants consistently gave male associates preferential treatment at her own expense, such that her work life was unmanageable,” wrote U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. of the Northern District of California in the Aug. 23 order. “Whether these allegations will ultimately support a hostile work environment claim is a factual question properly answered at a later stage.”
Kovalenko’s suit alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, California employment law and a San Francisco anti-bias ordinance.
The Northern District of California agreed to consider Kovalenko’s bias, retaliation and defamation claims but dismissed most of her claims against several individual partners at Kirkland & Ellis. The court said they are not “employers” and cannot be held liable for discrimination under state and federal law.
The court did hold, however, that individual Kirkland & Ellis partners will have to face defamation claims brought by Kovalenko.
According to Reuters, which has coverage, Kirkland & Ellis did not respond to requests for comment.
The firm argued in its motion to dismiss Kovalenko’s suit in December that “her claims are woefully deficient.”
Kovalenko, who is representing herself, also did not return Reuters’ request for comment.