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Female BigLaw Partners Fighting Gender Pay Inequality with Lawsuits
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Summary: Will more law firms be slammed with gender discrimination lawsuits? Some legal experts think yes.

Last year, law firms Chadbourne & Parke and Sedgwick were hit with lawsuits from female partners who alleged that they were not paid equally to male partners. As those cases are pending, a new gender discrimination lawsuit was filed against Proskauer Rose, and it makes you wonder–will more female partners at different firms follow in their colleagues’ footsteps?

  
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According to Law360, gender discrimination lawsuits against BigLaw firms is becoming a “trend” that legal experts state “will likely gain steam as female partners are emboldened to go public with claims of bias at their firms.”

It is no industry secret that law firms do not retain women, despite human resource efforts to do so. ALM Intelligence conducted a study that found that women from top-tier law schools were likely to quit after three to five years, while women from less prestigious schools were more likely to stay. According to Joni Hersch, a professor at Vanderbilt University, one of the theories for this was that women from the best schools tended to come from money or married well, and once in the grueling environment of law firms, they had the luxury of choice of moving on. ALM Intelligence found that men, no matter what their educational background, did not experience the same drop out rate as women in firms.

After the three to five year mark, women in big law firms trickle out year by year, according to ALM Intelligence. While first-year associate classes tend to be 50-50 of men and women and are compensated the same, with time, the pay gap starts to widen, causing some women to leave.

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Professor Joan Williams of UC-Hastings said that one reason 50-year-old female attorneys quit is due to gender pay inequality, which one survey said was almost 44%. 

“Women lawyers in their fifties are really upset about compensation,” Williams said. “They have the sense that men and women are not treated fairly.”



And now some of these women are fighting back.

On May 12, “Jane Doe,” a partner at Proskauer, filed a lawsuit that stated the firm paid less successful male colleagues up to 65% more than her in recent years, according to Law360. She said that she complained about her compensation and was retaliated against. She said that she faced discrimination and hostility, which caused her to have anxiety and other health problems.

Proskauer Rose denies her allegations, and meanwhile, Chadbourne & Parke is facing a $100 million proposed class action discrimination lawsuit and Sedgwick is reportedly close to settling with a partner who accused the firm of unfair compensation and promotions.

One legal expert told Law360 that she believes we’ve reached a tipping point and that momentum for these types of lawsuits is likely to build.

“There’s an impact with each one that causes people to evaluate their [own circumstances] and consider if that’s something they want [to pursue],” Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, told the publication.

Do you think more female partners will pursue litigation against their firms? Let us know in the comments below.



 

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