The suit, filed by former Covington staff attorney Yolanda Young, accuses the firm of discriminating against black staff attorneys by not allowing them to be promoted to associate. Young also alleged that Covington's job assignment policy is discriminatory because it has a disparate impact on black staff attorneys.
On Jan. 28, Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed Young's claim that the non-promotion policy was discriminatory because it was time-barred. Walton allowed Young's claim that the firm's job-assignment policy is discriminatory to move forward because, as he wrote in the Jan. 28 opinion (pdf), the firm's annual performance evaluations restarted the time frame for potential misconduct.
In its motion for summary judgment, filed by Michele Roberts of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld on Tuesday, Covington says that Young lacks the proper standing to file a discrimination suit because she was not personally affected by any of the firm's alleged discriminatory policies.
Because Young only applied for a staff attorney position and never sought a job as an associate, the firm argues that she "could not have been injured by any hiring criteria that would have a disparate impact on African Americans who sought to be hired as associates, counsel or partners." Covington's motion says that Young viewed her job as a staff attorney as a way to "pay the bills" as she pursued a career as a writer.
The motion argues that the firm's hiring process for associates is "substantially more competitive" than the one aspiring staff attorneys go through. According to the motion, Covington's associate hiring process includes multiple interviews with firm lawyers and reference checks. It also includes evaluations of a candidate's analytical abilities, communication skills and interest in the private practice of law.
The motion says Young's resume included "poor" law school grades, no clerkships, no law journal memberships and "eight years of work experience since law school graduation in which she had acquired no experience as a lawyer except for temporary jobs as a contract lawyer working on large document reviews." According to the firm's motion, Young was hired based on her past experience as a contract attorney, which included time spent at about 15 firms, including Jones Day and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey.
Another reason for summary judgment, Covington said, was that the claim was time-barred because Young had not had an evaluation during the appropriate timeframe to make the allegations.
Covington's motion argues that despite Young's claim that the annual evaluations used pre-Covington experience as a way to disparately affect black staff attorneys, the firm only used performance metrics based on her time at the firm during the evaluation process.
Quoting from Young's 2007 evaluation, the motion says, "Yolanda's normal review pace is significantly lower than the average pace and although her coding is generally accurate, her error rate is among the highest for the team." It was that information, the motion says, and not previous experience Covington used in Young's evaluation and which eventually led to her being fired when the firm underwent a "reduction in force."
Latif Doman, a name partner at Washington's Doman Davis who is representing Young, called Covington's motion "premature" and said that the firm's treatment of staff attorneys has a disproportionately negative effect on black lawyers.
"Covington is essentially claiming that my client was passed over for promotions because she wasn't qualified. We agree that she was unqualified because the criteria that the firm uses for making promotion decisions are discriminatory to certain groups of people, particularly African Americans," Doman said.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.