Morrison & Foerster is asking for sanctions against Sanford Heisler Sharp, which has brought a gender discrimination lawsuit against the firm, as well as one of the plaintiffs in the suit, alleging the plaintiffs brought claims that were “knowingly baseless.”
Sanford Heisler initially sued Morrison & Foerster in April 2018 on behalf of three former associates in California, claiming that the firm routinely holds back mothers and pregnant women, giving them lower pay and fewer promotion opportunities than their male peers.
Jane Doe 4, the plaintiff targeted in Morrison & Foerster’s sanctions motion, signed on to the amended complaint in the case in January, claiming she was informed that she was being terminated less than two months prior to her due date and was coerced into signing a full release of claims in order to take her parental leave as planned.
But in a motion filed late Monday night by Morrison & Foerster’s lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the firm claims that Doe consulted a lawyer before signing the release and negotiated a significantly higher lump-sum severance payment than Morrison & Foerster initially offered. The firm’s lawyers also claim that Doe secured salary payment for nearly five months after her active employment ended and nearly six additional months of benefits through negotiations that extended past the initial deadline the firm had set for acceptance.
“Morrison does not bring a motion for sanctions lightly, but sanctions are required under these extraordinary circumstances,” the firm’s lawyers wrote. “The terms of the release underscore what Jane Doe 4’s allegations make clear: Jane Doe 4, an attorney, negotiated for herself generous and substantial consideration in exchange for the release she executed.”
The motion also claims that Morrison & Foerster’s lawyers at Gibson Dunn warned lawyers at Sanford Heisler that Doe didn’t have a viable claim before she was added to the lawsuit, but that she was added anyway. Morrison & Foerster is asking U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley, who is overseeing the case, to dismiss Doe’s claims and for an award of attorney fees to be paid by her and her lawyers.
Sanford Heisler chair David Sanford didn’t immediately respond to messages Tuesday morning. The firm has filed a string of high-profile lawsuits against large law firms, including Proskauer Rose; Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart; and, this past week, a new suit against Jones Day. Deborah Marcuse, managing partner of the firm’s Baltimore office and co-lead counsel for the MoFo plaintiffs, said in a statement emailed Tuesday afternoon that MoFo’s motion was “baseless” and filing it was “itself sanctionable conduct by MoFo.”
“It is regrettable that MoFo made the choice to terminate Jane Doe 4 when she was eight months pregnant, without prior notice. It is reprehensible that the Firm then demanded that Jane Doe 4 sign away her legal rights or give up the five months of paid maternity leave that she was counting on,” Marcuse said. “MoFo’s conduct toward Jane Doe 4 constituted duress and undue influence warranting recission of the agreement she signed.”
A spokesman for Morrison & Foerster said the firm would let the filing speak for itself. The firm had previously asked to dismiss the complaint and for a judgment on the pleadings in Doe’s case. In particular, the firm claimed that Doe had “a sustained history of performance deficiencies” and that she had released her claims against the firm as part of severance negotiations.
Read the Sanctions Motion: