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BigLaw firm was 'caring only about its bottom line' when it wrongly fired pregnant associate, suit says

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A former intellectual property associate at DLA Piper has filed a gender bias lawsuit alleging that DLA Piper fired her because she sought maternity leave.

The seventh-year associate, Anisha Mehta, was fired in October 2022, less than a week after she submitted paperwork to take 18 to 20 weeks of maternity leave, according to a press release and the June 6 suit, filed in the Southern District of New York. She had been on the job for about a year.

Mehta was told that the firing was because she was an underperformer, even though she had previously received only positive feedback, the suit says. The prior year, Mehta had received three raises and a six-figure bonus that amounted to 30% of her base salary.

“In an effort to manufacture a basis for firing Mehta,” the suit says, deputy practice group leader Gina Durham “feigned her disappointment with Mehta, and when pressed for an actual reason, Durham initially offered generalizations about Mehta’s ability to handle client matters and her billable hours. When Mehta asked for specific examples, Durham only offered two examples of minor issues and refused to allow Mehta to respond.”

One of the issues was a poorly written brief. Durham had wrongly assumed that it was Mehta’s work product, when it was primarily the work of another, more senior associate, according to the suit.

After she was told of her dismissal, Mehta continued to be assigned work, according to the suit. Several projects were pending when DLA Piper cut off Mehta’s email and laptop access.

At the time of her firing, DLA Piper was experiencing pressure to lower billing rates, and Mehta’s intellectual property and technology group was getting less billable work, the suit says.

“Caring only about its bottom line, DLA was unwilling to incur the costs of paying an experienced associate while on her maternity leave because the firm would not reap the benefit of her billable hours,” the suit alleges.

The suit says DLA Piper markets that 21% of its partners are women “while conveniently” refusing to state what percentage are contract partners.

“The reality is that most women at DLA with the title of partner are contract partners, which essentially means they are senior to associates but nothing more,” according to the suit.

Mehta’s suit describes her as “brown-skinned and of South Asian descent.” DLA Piper says its goal is that lawyers from underrepresented groups make up at least half of all future partner promotions, the suit says.

“Based on her experiences, the value placed on retaining lawyers such as Mehta is mere lip service,” the suit says.

Mehta is represented by the Wigdor law firm. She alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and New York state and city discrimination laws.

DLA Piper did not immediately reply to the ABA Journal’s emailed request for comment., Law360 and Bloomberg Law are among the publications that covered the suit.

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