A former female shareholder in Greenberg Traurig’s Philadelphia office has sued the firm in a putative gender discrimination class action after the EEOC found “‘reasonable cause to believe’” the firm discriminated against women attorneys by compensating them less than their male counterparts, according to the complaint.
Francine Friedman Griesing, who worked at the firm from April 2007 through January 2010, alleged she was told to look for other employment after complaining about Greenberg Traurig’s compensation policies, which she said created a “boys club of origination” that stifled women’s ability to generate business and bill as many hours as men.
Griesing now has her own firm, Griesing Law in Philadelphia. David Sanford of Sanford Heisler is representing her in this suit, Griesing v. Greenberg Traurig, filed today in the Southern District of New York.
Sanford said that while Griesing is the only member of the suit currently, the class is expected to be near 215 members dating back to 2007. He said they are seeking $200 million in damages, one-quarter of which is for back and front pay, one-quarter toward compensatory damages and half of which is for punitive damages.
Sanford said it is very rare for the EEOC to find reasonable cause, with only 3.8 percent of single-plaintiff and class cases combined receiving that determination.
Greenberg Traurig executive committee member Hilarie Bass said in a statement that Griesing’s lawsuit paints a false picture of the work environment at the firm.
“The lawsuit filed today by Francine Griesing and her attorneys is an affront to the accomplished, talented women of Greenberg Traurig, who, like all of our lawyers, are compensated based on merit,” Bass said in the statement. “It is nothing more than a financially motivated publicity stunt without merit, backed by neither fact nor law.”
Bass continued that the complaint misrepresents the EEOC investigation, which she said included only a small number of women in one office of the firm and in which Griesing was the only complainant.
“The firm intends to vigorously defend our practices against her lawsuit and we fully expect to prevail,” Bass said.
Bass said Griesing “refused” to submit this matter to arbitration as required by the firm’s shareholder agreement. Greenberg Traurig filed a petition in federal court in Philadelphia today to compel arbitration, Bass said. A docket number for Greenberg Traurig’s filing is available online, but no documents filed in the case were available, according to a search of the federal court’s PACER system. Greenberg Traurig is represented in that matter by Baker Botts in Washington and Freeman Law Offices in Philadelphia.
According to Griesing’s complaint, Greenberg Traurig has a closed compensation system in which only CEO Richard Rosenbaum makes all promotion and compensation decisions with advisement from four other male shareholders who serve as the compensation committee.
Greenberg Traurig has three shareholder levels, consisting of the 300 level, 500 level and 1,000 level. The 1,000 level is the most highly compensated, and less than 10 percent of that level are female attorneys, according to the complaint. The 1,000-level shareholders get nearly exclusive access to the firm’s retreats where they can network and refer business, Griesing said in the complaint. According to the complaint, the 1,000-level shareholders are estimated to earn $1 million more per year than other shareholders.
Most new shareholders are placed in the 300 or 500 levels and are required to remain in the 500 level for a certain period of time before becoming eligible for the 1,000 level. Griesing was hired at the 300 level, where all but one of the female Philadelphia shareholders were placed. According to the complaint, men with similar or less qualifications were placed in the 500 level.
“By assigning women to lower levels and delaying their promotion, the firm denies its female shareholders compensation and opportunities to which they are otherwise entitled,” Griesing alleged in the complaint.
She alleged the compensation system lacks sufficient standards, quality controls, implementation metrics, transparency and oversight.
Griesing said she brought in more than $4 million in timekeeper revenues and origination during her time at the firm. She was told that if she generated $600,000 in originations, she would receive a $108,000 bonus and that the bonus would increase as the origination increased, according to the complaint. Despite bringing in double the origination, her bonus was only $115,000 in 2008, Griesing said in the complaint.
“GT has one exception to its general practice of denying women professional development opportunities and compensating women less than men,” Griesing alleged in the complaint. “GT prioritizes, pays and promotes women who have intimate relationships with firm leaders or who acquiesce to sexualized stereotypes.”
When Griesing raised concerns about her pay to Philadelphia Regional Operating Shareholder Michael Lehr, he allegedly agreed she was owed more in compensation but allegedly said the firm decreased her bonus to be able to offer higher bonuses to male shareholders who had “‘families to support,’” according to the complaint. Lehr allegedly said Griesing was “‘lucky to have a job,’” according to the complaint.
After exhausting other avenues up the food chain in the firm, Griesing said in the complaint that she was left with no other option but to go to Rosenbaum. According to the complaint, Rosenbaum allegedly told Griesing he would not investigate her claims unless she agreed to be “‘happy’” at the firm. Griesing then filed a complaint with the EEOC.
At a subsequent meeting, Rosenbaum allegedly told Griesing she needed to leave the firm if she was going to persist in questioning her compensation, according to the complaint. The firm then stopped assigning Griesing work and urged her principal associate to work for another shareholder, according to the complaint.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on July 28 determined Griesing had been paid $50,000 less than her nearest male counterpart; that women shareholders were on average compensated less than men at the firm, and men were more likely than women to be hired above level 300.
A conciliation process with the EEOC, Griesing and Greenberg Traurig ensued over the past few months, but Sanford said today’s complaint is evidence that those talks did not result in a settlement. He said Greenberg Traurig has “ample” reason to settle this nationwide class action.