Female Law Firm Partner Alleges Systematic Gender Bias

Former Chadbourne & Parke attorney filed class action on behalf of female partners

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A former partner at international law firm Chadbourne & Parke has filed a proposed class action seeking $100 million in damages because the firm allegedly discriminated against female partners and paid them less than their male colleagues (Campbell v. Chadbourne & Parke LLP, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:16-cv-06832).

Plaintiff Kerrie Campbell is a seasoned trial lawyer who joined the firm's Washington, D.C., office as a partner in 2014, according to a complaint filed on Aug. 31 with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Campbell said she brought 20 clients to the firm and generated more than $5 million in total collections between 2014 and 2016.

Although her numbers were comparable to top-performing male partners, her pay placed her in "the bottom ranks" with male partners she outperformed, the complaint said.

"At Chadbourne, salary is purportedly linked to an attorney's annual collections, but the firm's own data shows that many male partners with collection amounts lower than Ms. Campbell's were awarded two to three times the base salary" she earned, said a statement from law firm Sanford Heisler, which represents Campbell.

A Chadbourne spokesperson said the firm "categorically denies" all of her accusations, "including her charges of gender discrimination."

Discrimination Claims

Campbell seeks to represent a class of about 26 female partners who have worked for Chadbourne's U.S. offices at any time since August 2013.

She asserted various individual and class claims, including gender and pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act.

Campbell said that, not long after she complained about gender equity issues to the firm's all-male management committee, she was told that her practice didn't fit with the firm's "strategic direction."

Her pay was subsequently slashed to an amount less than that of a first-year associate, and she was asked to take her practice elsewhere, according to the complaint.

"The mistreatment and pay differential that Ms. Campbell suffered is inexcusable, particularly considering her exemplary service to the firm," said David Sanford with Sanford Heisler in Washington, D.C., lead counsel for Campbell. "Chadbourne may talk a good game about treating its lawyers fairly and equally, but Ms. Campbell's allegations show that at Chadbourne, gender discrimination is standard operating procedure."

The complaint cites an American Bar Association study that found that women hold only 18 percent of equity partner positions in law firms even though they take up almost 45 percent of associate positions.

"The fact that pay inequity is rampant in the law does not excuse Chadbourne's inequitable compensation scheme," Sanford added.

Firm Denies Allegations

Chadbourne said Campbell "was asked in early 2016 to transition her practice elsewhere when it became apparent that her specific practice did not integrate with the firm."

"In similar situations, Chadbourne has taken comparable steps with partners both male and female, without incident," according to the firm's spokesperson.

"Chadbourne's commitment to the advancement of women dates back over 50 years, when the firm elected its first female partner in 1964—at a time when such promotions were extremely rare," the spokesperson said. "Female equity partners have served and currently serve on the firm's management committee, as practice group leaders, and as managing partners of various firm offices."

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