A federal judge in Manhattan on Monday declined to temporarily block Chadbourne & Parke’s partnership from voting to expel Kerrie Campbell, a partner in Washington, D.C., who is leading a $100 million gender discrimination action against the firm.
At an afternoon hearing, U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken of the Southern District of New York rejected the bid by Campbell and other plaintiffs in the gender bias suit to postpone a Chadbourne partnership vote set for Wednesday. Campbell, represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp, had argued that Chadbourne’s planned vote and an April 5 press statement about it were intended to discourage other woman partners from joining the suit.
Oetken wasn’t persuaded. Ruling from the bench on Monday, the judge contrasted the “ambiguous” wording of Chadbourne’s press release with other, more overt threats of corporate retaliation.
“Here, the potential chilling effect … is less explicit, less direct and less immediate,” said Oetken. He also noted that potential class members in the case are partners in a law firm, and likely know more about their employment rights than the typical employee.
Campbell first sued her firm in August, alleging that women in Chadbourne’s partnership ranks receive lower pay and fewer leadership opportunities than their male counterparts. Since then, two other former partners have joined the suit and are looking to certify the case as a collective action.
Chadbourne, which denies the lawsuit’s claims, announced earlier this month that its partners would vote on whether Campbell should be ejected from the partnership.
A week later, Campbell’s lawyers, led by Sanford Heisler’s David Sanford, filed an emergency motion looking to block the vote and asking Oetken to issue a notice that would specify to woman partners that they couldn’t be retaliated against for joining the suit.
In court papers filed on April 14, Chadbourne’s defense lawyers, led by Kathleen McKenna of Proskauer Rose, countered that the partnership vote is clearly allowed under the firm’s partnership agreement. The firm also argued that the plaintiffs’ “urgent request” to block the vote “rings hollow.”
“Indeed, Campbell’s complaint of a sudden emergency conflicts with her own core allegation that she already was ‘terminated’ as a partner over 14 months ago when she was asked by management of the firm to leave voluntarily and transition her practice elsewhere,” Chadbourne’s outside counsel wrote. “She, of course, chose not to do so.”
Sanford Heisler partner Andrew Melzer argued for Campbell and the other plaintiffs at Monday’s hearing. Proskauer’s McKenna argued for Chadbourne.
In addition to allowing the partnership vote, Oetken on Monday denied other requests from Campbell’s side to place restrictions on Chadbourne’s communications to potential plaintiffs and the press.