Chadbourne & Parke Lawsuit Challenges Unequal Pay for Female Partners
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Summary: A pending lawsuit challenges the gender pay gap in a Big Law firm. 

It’s a known fact that partners at law firms don’t make the same amount of money, but it’s unclear why. But one thing has been proven, female partners tend to make less than their male counterparts, and a recent lawsuit filed by attorney Kerrie L. Campbell against Chadbourne & Parke has illuminated this alleged problem.


In late 2016, Campbell filed a lawsuit against the New York-based firm because she said she was paid less than the male partners, according to The New York Times. This year, two other female partners joined her $1oo million lawsuit, and in the complaint, they allege that they have been “systematically disparately underpaid, systematically shut out of firm leadership, demoted, de-equitized and terminated.”

Campbell said that she was shut out of decision-making and that the firm had underpaid her $2.7 million. Her lead counsel said last August that Chadbourne was stuck in the “dark ages” when it came to how it treats women.

“Chadbourne & Parke seems to be operating in the dark ages when it comes to gender equality,” attorney David Sanford said. “Chadbourne may talk a good game about treating its lawyers fairly and equally, but Ms. Campbell’s allegations shows that at Chadbourne gender discrimination is standard operating procedure.”

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In March, Mary T. Yelenick joined Campbell’s lawsuit. Yelenick had spent 35 years at Chadbourne & Parke, and when she had decided to join the discrimination suit, she had already retired from her esteemed position as chairwoman for product liability.

“My decades of experience has made me aware of the many ways — both overt and more subtle — in which both institutional structures and informal practices continue to work to impede the advancement, and discount the contributions, of women,” Yelenick said to The New York Times.

Later, a third female partner, Jaroslawa Z. Johnson, joined the lawsuit because Chadbourne allegedly paid her less than her male partners even though she generated more revenue.

Chadbourne has already argued in legal papers that the three partners were paid differently because each had “unique experiences and roles,” and that their lawsuit was meritless because they were not covered by federal equal pay protections because they were partners, not employees. The law firm has also called Campbell’s suit a “smear campaign” and a cash grab.

According to The New York Times, this lawsuit has “spurred discussions about pay among women at other large law firms.”

“For women who question the fairness in partnership compensation, the customary solution had been to quietly move to another firm. A number of female lawyers are now arguing that the legal profession has had ample time to get used to women in its ranks and needs to be held accountable, either in court or in mediation or arbitration.

Barely 20 percent of women have reached firm partnership status despite the high number of women who are entry-level associates at many major firms. When they graduate from law school — where women are now just over half of students — women are paid in lock step with male colleagues, but once they make partner, their compensation can be widely divergent from that of their male counterparts.

Female law partners on average earn about one-third, or about $300,000, less annually than their male colleagues, according to a survey of 2,100 partners at law firms nationwide released last fall by a legal search firm, Major, Lindsey & Africa. Over several years, that adds up quickly to a million dollars or more in lost compensation for a female lawyer.”

According to the lawsuit, Chadbourne releases data about partner pay, and this report shows the glaring gap between male and female partner pay at the firm. The plaintiffs state that in 2013 the gender gap was 40% and last year, it was 21%.

One of the most common reasons cited for female partners being paid less is that they bring in less business. Yelenick told The New York Times that often females are incorrectly not credited for business origination, and another theory is that women are not given certain lead-generating opportunities such as outside socializing or passed down business.

While it is unclear what will happen in this case, Chadbourne has already sent a message that they will not tolerate accusations. In April, they fired Campbell in what many deemed to be a surprising public relations move.

Source: The New York Times

Do you think this lawsuit has merit? Let us know in the comments below.


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