It was recently reported by Reuters that two secretaries laid off in August have filed separate lawsuits against Paul Hastings in the Los Angeles Superior Court claiming age discrimination. One of the lawsuits mentioned, “the real reason plaintiff was ‘laid off’ was because she was an older worker earning and costing the defendant law firm too much.” Apparently, each complainant is seeking more than $1 million in damages.
A spokesman for Paul Hastings, Allan Whitescarver, said that the complainants, Anne Hollingsworth and Shawnda Foster, where two of the three legal staff let go in August from the law firm’s Los Angeles office as a part of a drive to eliminate positions.
Whitescarver said, “We never make decisions to eliminate positions with any discriminatory conduct.” He admitted that the law firm has been trying to reduce its number of legal secretaries over the last few years, while shifting more investment to technological advancement – a strategy meant to increase the organization’s efficiency.
The phenomenon of reducing legal staff coupled with growth in technology is of course not new and has been a favorite strategy of law firms seeking to reduce overhead and liabilities during the recession and post-recession markets. According to a study by the Citi Private Bank, the ratio of non-legal staff to lawyers in big law firms stood at 1.03 in 2007, but by 2011, the ratio had dropped to 0.9 legal staff per lawyer.
One of the complainants, Hollingsworth, 66, mentioned in her complaint that she had worked at Paul Hastings for 25 years before being fired.
On the other hand, the other complainant, Shawnda Foster, 49, added racial discrimination on top of age discrimination in her complaint. Foster mentioned that she was the only black secretary on her floor for a number of years, and that she was laid off while a less-qualified white secretary was retained.
The cases are Hollingsworth v. Paul Hastings and Foster v. Paul Hastings, Los Angeles Superior Court, Nos. BC493962 and BC493963.