Steptoe & Johnson Slammed with Gender Discrimination Class-Action Lawsuit
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Summary: Steptoe & Johnson has been sued for allegedly underpaying its female attorneys. 

On June 22, a former Steptoe & Johnson associate sued the firm, saying that they had paid her less than her male counterparts.


Attorney Ji-In Houck filed a national class action against her former employee, Courthouse News reported. She said that while the Los Angeles firm touts its gender equality, the leadership was actually male-dominated and discriminated against women in terms of pay and promotions.

“Despite paying lip service to diversity in its workforce, and even counseling the firm’s own clients on policies to avoid pay discrimination, defendant Steptoe & Johnson LLP … subjects its female attorneys to unequal pay,” Houck said in her lawsuit.

Houck made the astounding claim that she was paid $85,000 during her first year at the firm while male attorneys were given salaries of $165,000 fresh out of law school. Houck said that she was an attorney with two years of experience in civil litigation when she joined Steptoe.

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Houck said that she had worked at Steptoe’s Century City office for three years, and during that time, she said she had been paid 30-40 percent less than male lawyers with comparable experience.

“The firm’s overall corporate culture and the uniform policies, procedures and practices inevitably result in systemic pay discrimination to the disadvantage of the firm’s female attorneys,” Houck said.

Houck left Steptoe in March of 2016, and she said her salary was $200,000 but that men her level were paid $230,000.

Steptoe is based in Washington, D.C. and has nearly 400 attorneys across nine offices, including branches in London and Beijing. The firm said that Houck’s lawsuit was “baseless” and “without merit,” and they said that Houck was “a former junior associate who was hired as a contract attorney and stayed with the firm for less than three years.”

Houck’s lawsuit has come at a time when other firms have been sued for gender discrimination and only weeks since a group of law firms pledged to implement the “Mansfield Rule” to improve diversity.

In the past year and a half, several discrimination lawsuits against law firms have been filed by female attorneys, and the biggest case so far is the $100 million suit against Chadbourne & Parke. Other firms such as LeClairRyan and Sedwick were also sued.

Law firms are known to be dominated by white men, and there have been studies that have proven that female partners are paid less than their male counterparts and that women tend to drop out of law firms. To counter this situation, 30 law firms which include Dentons and Porter Kaye Scholer have agreed to implement the “Mansfield Rule,” which is based on the NFL’s “Rooney Rule.”

The Mansfield Rule asks law firms to consider women and attorneys of color when hiring for leadership roles, equity partner promotions, and filling lateral positions. The rule is similar to the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview and consider a minority candidate when hiring coaching positions.

Since leaving Steptoe, Houck has found a position at the Stalwart Law Group in Los Angeles.

Before filing her suit, Houck said that she had discovered that other female attorneys at Steptoe were also being undervalued.

“The firm’s overall corporate culture and the uniform policies, procedures, and practices inevitably result in systemic pay discrimination to the disadvantage of the firm’s female attorneys,” Houck said.

In response to Houck’s claims, Steptoe said that the firm had many women in leadership positions.

“In January 2016, the firm promoted a new partner class that was 50 percent female, and in January 2017, the new partner class was 80 percent female,” Steptoe said.

Houck is seeking class action certification, back pay, raises and damages under the federal Equal Pay Act and the California Fair Pay Act. She also wants the firm to establish programs to foster equal opportunity for female attorneys.

Source: Courthouse News

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