Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Jones Day Hit With $200 Million Gender Lawsuit

Six female associates have filed a $200 million gender discrimination lawsuit against Jones Day, calling the firm a fraternity led by one man.

The proposed class action, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that the “hostile work environment” at Jones Day harms female associates in compensation and partnership decisions.

“In Jones Day’s fraternity culture, male brotherhood is affirmed and strengthened by comments and conduct that derogate women, leaving female associates to choose between capitulation and exclusion,” the complaint alleges.

The plaintiffs sued for discrimination based on pregnancy, maternity and parenting decisions. One plaintiff said she went from being a “Harvard law superstar” to a “problem child” when she asked about the firm’s policies on maternity leave, and that she received a salary freeze and negative job reviews after she had a baby.

“The suit alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act and employment-related laws in Washington, D.C., and California,” reports the ABA Journal, citing the complaint. “The firm hires about the same number of male and female associates, but the women make less money and are outnumbered in the partnership…. Women who get pregnant are often fired, and women who speak up often suffer retaliation.”

Read the complaint here.

First Three Paragraphs

In their complaint, the plaintiffs waste no time in laying out their case. Here are the first three paragraphs:

  1. Defendant Jones Day operates as a fraternity in a perversely literal sense. Senior male partners mentor young male associates, give them preferential assignments, facilitate their access to clients, introduce them to the Firm’s powerbrokers, and groom them for membership in the Firm’s partnership, even when their legal skills are notably deficient. Female associates, by contrast, have fewer opportunities for mentorship, are promoted in smaller numbers, and earn less for equal work.

 

  1. Prominent male partners attribute the low number of female partners at Jones Day to women who choose children instead of careers, affirming the baseline expectations that female attorneys must choose one or the other. Female associates who do not advance, particularly those who have children, are thus presumed to have chosen family over work. Meanwhile, female attorneys without children also face discrimination based on gender stereotypes about motherhood, family responsibilities, and/or marital status.

 

  1. For many female associates at Jones Day, particularly those who show any sign of overt resistance—which could mean as little as questioning a policy or the basis of a comment in one’s review—the hostile work environment culminates in pretextual critiques of their performance followed by constructive discharge or termination. Those who are not convinced to voluntarily depart by the Firm’s mistreatment are eventually forced out.

 

Drinking and Pool Parties

The alleged leader of the “fraternity,” according to the complaint, is the male Managing Partner who runs the firm’s Washington DC office and is allegedly in charge of pay and promotion decisions.

 

Specific allegations in the complaint:

 

  • “The tireless, childless female associate is inadequately ‘fun’ and excessively ‘intense’; the high-performing associate mother of small children is ‘deadline challenged’ or lacks ‘commitment.’”
  • “[F]irm social events regularly devolved into opportunities for male partners, associates and clients to harass and humiliate female attorneys. At one dinner, one Partner demanded that three female summer associates sing and dance to a Care Bears song (an event captured on video).”
  • “Sexist, sexualized comments and conduct also permeate the office environment, where female associates regularly endure comments on their appearances, their attire, and their bodies.”
  • “Jane Doe 3 was criticized for having a ‘stern face’ and told to ‘smile more.’ And a male partner openly referred to Jane Doe 4 as ‘eye candy’ when he assigned a male summer associate to work with her.”
  • “[M]ale senior partners routinely allocate the best work to male associates, who in turn typically make more money and get promoted to partner. Male attorneys routinely receive greater support from the Firm in developing relationships both with clients and with their colleagues. Female attorneys generally receive inadequate work, mentorship, and support …”
  • “Typifying Jones Day’s view that pregnant women are a problem for the Firm, a Firm practice leader recently ‘encouraged’ female associates to tell management if they were pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant within the next year, supposedly so that he could plan his budget. Worse, in apparent recognition of the lack of female mentors, the Partner in question informed his female associates that they could speak with his administrative assistant if they did not want to reveal their reproductive plans and choices to him.”

 

Note: As of this post, Jones Day had not yet filed a formal answer to the complaint. The ABA Journal reported that the firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its story.

 

About the Author

Jay Reeves

jay.reeves@ymail.com | 919-619-2441

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Over the course of his 35-year career he was a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms put more mojo in their practice through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations.

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