Law Firms

Partner files $100M class action against Chadbourne, targets pay decisions of male 'dictatorship'

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A partner has filed a $100 million class action alleging Chadbourne & Parke has “a culture of discrimination against female attorneys” that was perpetuated by an “all-male dictatorship.”

The suit (PDF) by Kerrie Campbell seeks damages for female partners “who have been disparately underpaid, systematically shut out of firm leadership, demoted, de-equitized and terminated.” (sub. req.), the New York Times and Above the Law have stories.

Chadbourne & Parke said in a statement that Campbell’s suit “is riddled with falsehoods and, once the facts are fully presented, the firm is confident that her allegations will be shown to be completely baseless.”

Campbell joined the firm’s Washington, D.C., office as a lateral partner in 2014. She had chaired the consumer product safety group for seven years at Manatt, Phelps, and Phillips, and had spent 17 years before that at Collier Shannon, where she rose from associate to chair of that firm’s product safety group. Though she was an equity partner at Chadbourne, Campbell was an employee entitled to sue under federal law, the suit says.

In her two years at the firm, the suit says, Campbell originated no less than 40 new matters for more than 20 clients she brought to the firm, generating $5 million in collections. Though her productivity and revenue generation rivaled that of top-performing male partners, her pay placed her in the bottom ranks of male partners who originated far less, she alleges.

She called on firm leaders, all of them male, to address the situation, the suit says. Rather than doing so, she was informed her practice was not a good fit with the firm’s strategic direction and she should quietly leave. The firm elected its first female partner to the management committee in July 2016 after Campbell filed a class charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the suit.

The male leadership committee often operated in complete secrecy, making its decisions “in a black box, generally without input or scrutiny from the partnership at large,” the suit says. “This wall of silence reinforces the firm’s glass ceiling by shielding the management committee from meaningful oversight and giving it unchecked dominion over the compensation and employment of firm partners. And it also enables the committee to routinely disfavor female partners.”

After Campbell complained about her compensation, the firm retaliated by writing off collections due to her, refusing to provide adequate staffing in a high-value litigation matter, and refusing to acknowledge her successes in marketing materials, the suit alleges.

Campbell, 54, told the New York Times she is still with the law firm, but every day “I wonder if this will be my last day.”

The proposed class consists of about 26 female partners employed with the firm since August 2013. Causes of action include alleged violation of Title VII; the Equal Pay Act and Washington, D.C.’s Human Rights Act, as well as breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment.

The suit seeks $25 million for lost earnings, $25 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.

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