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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is suing Sidley Austin Brown & Wood for age discrimination on behalf of 31 partners demoted or expelled in 1999, has moved to compel the law firm to produce a deposition witness to testify about the firm’s specific reasons for changing the partners’ status. The Chicago firm, which claims the demotions were due to performance, has already produced under seal an exhibit outlining the factors in its decision, supplemented by billings and realization records, historic compensation data and other sensitive information, but the EEOC says the firm’s response fails to provide necessary information about the relative weight assigned the various factors by the individual executive and management committee members who participated in the discussions. Sidley has objected to the deposition request on the grounds it is burdensome and duplicative of other discovery. A hearing is scheduled for today. The information sought by the EEOC would be considered highly sensitive at any law firm. Indeed, several of the demoted partners last year asked the EEOC to drop them from the case if it meant risking the public disclosure of their personnel records. The federal judge overseeing the case denied their requests on the grounds that they were not actually parties to the EEOC suit and expressed amusement that the lawyers put so little faith in the court’s protective order, which gives the parties broad latitude to file sensitive information under seal. The EEOC suit has attracted wide attention within the profession because, though partners have traditionally been considered exempt from anti-discrimination laws, the agency is arguing that Sidley’s highly centralized management rendered most partners mere employees.

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