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BigLaw firm underpaid female partner, allowed male peers to ostracize and obstruct her, lawsuit says

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A former nonequity partner at Reed Smith has alleged in a lawsuit that her male colleagues treated her unfairly, and the law firm allowed it to happen.

Sherri Affrunti filed the pay and gender bias lawsuit in New Jersey state court in Mercer County on Dec. 18, reports.

According to the suit, Reed Smith allowed Affrunti’s male peers to “obstruct rather than to enhance her productivity; improperly take credit for her work and originations; direct business away from her; and ostracize her rather than collaborate with her.”

Yet the male lawyers were given opportunities, introductions and support to build their practices that she did not receive, the lawsuit said. They were also paid more than Affrunti, even though she performed as well or better than they did, according to the suit.

The suit alleges violations of New Jersey laws providing for equal pay and banning gender discrimination.

Reed Smith gave a statement to, which covered the lawsuit.

“Ms. Affrunti’s allegations are unfounded, and we intend to defend this case vigorously,” the statement said. “Reed Smith is proud of its transparent and comprehensive process for evaluating performance and determining compensation as well as the professional opportunities the firm provides to all of its lawyers.”

The suit focuses in particular on a male colleague who began diverting associate support away from Affrunti after she complained in 2006 that he wanted to know of her whereabouts when she wasn’t in the office. The colleague was not Affrunti’s supervisor and wasn’t working with her on any cases at the time.

Because resources were diverted, the suit said, Affrunti “often had to scramble around for assistance or, more commonly, pull ‘all-nighters’ in order to complete all of the work herself including but not limited to the tasks that would normally be delegated to and performed by associates.”

In addition, the male colleague used form documents that Affrunti had created to help her practice group, while at the same time undermining Affrunti’s status at the firm, the suit said.

Affrunti’s pay was affected from the time that she was hired as an associate in 2002, according to the suit. She was placed in a lower associate class than warranted because the firm failed to credit her year of work as a law clerk. She later learned that the firm had intentionally withheld $25,000 from her initial starting salary, she said.

Affrunti was passed over for promotion to nonequity partner the first year that she was eligible, despite being recognized as a skilled and diligent attorney, she said in the suit. She was promoted the next year—in January 2006.

During her 13 years as a nonequity partner, Affrunti’s compensation remained essentially flat. She received only two bonuses—one for $10,000 and another for $25,000. Male colleagues received annual pay hikes and/or substantial annual bonuses, according to the suit.

Adding insult to injury, the law firm retroactively reduced Affrunti’s base salary by $50,000 for fiscal year 2017 and illegally deducted more than $5,700 from a March 2017 paycheck, the suit alleged. She resigned effective January 2019 to start her own law firm.

Affrunti graduated from Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law in 1996 and obtained an LLM in trial advocacy from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in 1999.

Affrunti is represented by Heidi Weintraub and James Burden of Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins.

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