Multiple large law firms in the United States are facing discrimination lawsuits brought on by former employees. These same firms are defending corporations across the country against discrimination lawsuits at the same time. The list is long and includes Venable, Patton Boggs and many others.
A former paralegal from Kenya filed a lawsuit against Venable that was settled in the month of June. The paralegal claimed that leaders at the firm treated her poorly and then fired her later because of her national origin. A former business development manager working in the Washington office filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment against Patton Boggs.
District firm James E. Brown & Associates were sued in February for pregnancy discrimination by attorney Zorayda J. Moreira-Smith. She said the firm rescinded her job offer illegally not long after she informed the firm that she was pregnant. In April, the law firm of Kelley Drye & Warren settled an age discrimination lawsuit with a former partner. The former partner, Eugene D’Ablemont, sued the firm back in 2010 claiming that its policy of de-equitizing partners after the age of 70 was age discrimination. The firm agreed to pay D’Ablemont $574,000 in the settlement and ended its policy in 2010.
In 2011, charges of employment discrimination hit an all-time high of 100,000. According to the EEOC, the number of claims filed against law firms since 2009 have also increased after a short decline. From 2008 to 2009, claims filed against employers in the legal industry increased by 7 percent. From 2010 to 2011, the numbers increased by 8 percent.
“A lot of law firms were hard hit by the economy, especially the large ones, and laid off a number of attorneys and other employees,” said Avi Kumin, a partner at Katz, Marshall & Banks. The firm represents employees in employment discrimination and retaliation claims. “You’re seeing more cases because of the difficulty of jumping into another job. Previously, if someone lost their job, it’s possible they could’ve worked for another good firm a couple months later. Now you’re seeing [employees] being out of work for months and months … Bringing a suit suddenly looks more attractive because there are real damages to recover.”
Law firms that are well-versed in defending employees against employment discrimination tend to hire outside help when they face claims of the same nature. Steve McCool was hired by Patton Boggs. McCool worked formerly as a federal prosecutor and is now with Mallon & McCool. Carla Brown is the attorney representing the plaintiff in that lawsuit.
“The people who get terminated know their rights,” said Brown, of the Reston firm Charlson Bredehoft Cohen Brown & Sakata. “They might not be employment lawyers, but they know when something is wrong.”