Kerrie Campbell.
Kerrie Campbell. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Chadbourne & Parke on Monday formally asked a Manhattan federal judge to dismiss a high-profile gender bias suit filed against the firm two months ago by litigation partner Kerrie Campbell in Washington, D.C.

In its 25-page filing, Chadbourne’s lawyers from Proskauer Rose claim that Campbell and fellow plaintiff and former Chadbourne partner Jaroslawa Zelinsky Johnson lack standing to file a class action suit against the firm under current employment discrimination laws.

Chadbourne cites a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher brokered victory for retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in a landmark 2011 U.S. Supreme Court case in arguing that the plaintiffs putative class of 26 current and former female lawyers is too small to warrant class certification. The firm notes that many of those in the putative class are not even U.S. citizens.

As equity partners at Chadbourne, Campbell and Johnson “operate autonomously by setting their own hours of work and determining the manner in which they practice law,” according to Chadbourne’s motion to dismiss. As such, the firm claims that they are effectively employers, not employees, and thus unable to show a reporting relationship necessary to bring a gender discrimination case. As partners at the firm, Chadbourne argues that Campbell and Johnson had the power to make changes in its operations.

A Chadbourne spokesman said in a statement that the firm’s motion makes clear that the case against it should have never been brought.

“The plaintiffs as partners of the firm are its owners, not its employees, and thus are not legally entitled to bring claims against the firm under the employment laws that they are trying to invoke,” the firm said. “These are uniquely individual claims, and plaintiffs cannot inflate the group they purport to represent to a level that warrants class action treatment under controlling law. Notwithstanding the fanfare with which this lawsuit was announced by the plaintiffs, the fact is that it is plagued by fundamental legal defects that require it to be dismissed.”

Campbell accused Chadbourne of running an “all-male dictatorship” on her Aug. 31 complaint against the New York-based firm, which alleged that Chadbourne routinely paid women partners less and denied them leadership opportunities. Johnson, a former managing partner of Chadbourne’s shuttered Kiev office, sought to join Campbell’s suit in late October. A week later, Chadbourne filed counterclaims against Campbell, accusing her of failing to live up to her promises after joining the firm as a lateral partner hire in January 2014.

David Sanford, chairman of Sanford Heisler, has faced off before against Chadbourne’s Proskauer lawyers in employment discrimination cases. He pilloried Chadbourne’s attempt to dismiss his clients’ case in a statement provided to The American Lawyer.

“Chadbourne’s latest filings are simply another attempt to silence two women who had the courage to speak out against the culture of entrenched sexism and chauvinism at the firm,” Sanford said. “We are confident we will defeat Chadbourne’s motions and ultimately will vindicate the rights of female attorneys at the firm. Chadbourne may continue its assault on the equal rights of female partners but it should have no doubt that Ms. Campbell and Ms. Johnson will continue their pursuit of justice.”

Sanford has said previously that Chadbourne has no arbitration provision in its partnership agreement. The American Lawyer has spoken with three former female partners at Chadbourne in an effort to verify Campbell and Johnson’s claims. Two of the three, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely about their former firm, were receptive to allegations made by plaintiffs. A third, while sympathetic, was skeptical that Chadbourne would make decisions on compensation and status at the firm solely on the basis of gender.

In mid-September, a group of 14 current female partners at Chadbourne wrote a public letter to Sanford taking him to task for trying to speak on their behalf about conditions for women lawyers at the firm. While the letter did not directly address the claims in Campbell’s complaint, in its court papers Monday, Chadbourne wrote that the group “reject … [counsel’s] claim to represent a class that purportedly includes [them].”

Andrew Giaccia, managing partner of Chadbourne since being elected to the firm’s top leadership role in late 2010, also filed an affidavit in the case on Monday. Attached to the affidavit were several exhibits, including a copy of Chadbourne’s partnership agreement and a firm memo to all partners dated Dec. 16, 2015, detailing its year-end point setting and bonus process.

Chadbourne & Parke on Monday formally asked a Manhattan federal judge to dismiss a high-profile gender bias suit filed against the firm two months ago by litigation partner Kerrie Campbell in Washington, D.C.

In its 25-page filing, Chadbourne’s lawyers from Proskauer Rose claim that Campbell and fellow plaintiff and former Chadbourne partner Jaroslawa Zelinsky Johnson lack standing to file a class action suit against the firm under current employment discrimination laws.

Chadbourne cites a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher brokered victory for retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in a landmark 2011 U.S. Supreme Court case in arguing that the plaintiffs putative class of 26 current and former female lawyers is too small to warrant class certification. The firm notes that many of those in the putative class are not even U.S. citizens.

As equity partners at Chadbourne, Campbell and Johnson “operate autonomously by setting their own hours of work and determining the manner in which they practice law,” according to Chadbourne’s motion to dismiss. As such, the firm claims that they are effectively employers, not employees, and thus unable to show a reporting relationship necessary to bring a gender discrimination case. As partners at the firm, Chadbourne argues that Campbell and Johnson had the power to make changes in its operations.

A Chadbourne spokesman said in a statement that the firm’s motion makes clear that the case against it should have never been brought.

“The plaintiffs as partners of the firm are its owners, not its employees, and thus are not legally entitled to bring claims against the firm under the employment laws that they are trying to invoke,” the firm said. “These are uniquely individual claims, and plaintiffs cannot inflate the group they purport to represent to a level that warrants class action treatment under controlling law. Notwithstanding the fanfare with which this lawsuit was announced by the plaintiffs, the fact is that it is plagued by fundamental legal defects that require it to be dismissed.”

Campbell accused Chadbourne of running an “all-male dictatorship” on her Aug. 31 complaint against the New York-based firm, which alleged that Chadbourne routinely paid women partners less and denied them leadership opportunities. Johnson, a former managing partner of Chadbourne’s shuttered Kiev office, sought to join Campbell’s suit in late October. A week later, Chadbourne filed counterclaims against Campbell, accusing her of failing to live up to her promises after joining the firm as a lateral partner hire in January 2014.

David Sanford, chairman of Sanford Heisler , has faced off before against Chadbourne’s Proskauer lawyers in employment discrimination cases. He pilloried Chadbourne’s attempt to dismiss his clients’ case in a statement provided to The American Lawyer.

“Chadbourne’s latest filings are simply another attempt to silence two women who had the courage to speak out against the culture of entrenched sexism and chauvinism at the firm,” Sanford said. “We are confident we will defeat Chadbourne’s motions and ultimately will vindicate the rights of female attorneys at the firm. Chadbourne may continue its assault on the equal rights of female partners but it should have no doubt that Ms. Campbell and Ms. Johnson will continue their pursuit of justice.”

Sanford has said previously that Chadbourne has no arbitration provision in its partnership agreement. The American Lawyer has spoken with three former female partners at Chadbourne in an effort to verify Campbell and Johnson’s claims. Two of the three, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely about their former firm, were receptive to allegations made by plaintiffs. A third, while sympathetic, was skeptical that Chadbourne would make decisions on compensation and status at the firm solely on the basis of gender.

In mid-September, a group of 14 current female partners at Chadbourne wrote a public letter to Sanford taking him to task for trying to speak on their behalf about conditions for women lawyers at the firm. While the letter did not directly address the claims in Campbell’s complaint, in its court papers Monday, Chadbourne wrote that the group “reject … [counsel’s] claim to represent a class that purportedly includes [them].”

Andrew Giaccia, managing partner of Chadbourne since being elected to the firm’s top leadership role in late 2010, also filed an affidavit in the case on Monday. Attached to the affidavit were several exhibits, including a copy of Chadbourne’s partnership agreement and a firm memo to all partners dated Dec. 16, 2015, detailing its year-end point setting and bonus process.