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Chicago–The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a petition for review by Sidley Austin on whether former partners can seek monetary damages or other individual relief in an age-discrimination lawsuit brought last year against the firm by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission sued the Chicago-based firm in January 2005 over the firm’s demotion of some attorneys from partner status in 1999 and a Sidley retirement policy that it alleges forced out attorneys after age 65, saying the firm violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Of the 32 attorneys who were downgraded from partner status, 27 have asked to be represented by the EEOC in the litigation, which is ongoing in the Northern District of Illinois, the agency said. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held in February that the commission had the authority to seek relief on behalf of the Sidley attorneys affected by the discrimination. Controlling law “Although the Supreme Court did not address the ultimate merits of the question, the court’s decision to deny Sidley’s request for review leaves the 7th Circuit decision in the our case standing as the controlling law for the duration of this case through a jury verdict,” John Hendrickson, a regional attorney for the commission, said in a release. The law firm didn’t immediately have a comment. The commission said it is seeking monetary damages and individual specific relief, such as reinstatement for the attorneys who lost partner status. The agency began its investigation of the firm after receiving what it called a “confidential complaint from within the firm” as opposed to a formal charge by an individual. The probe was also triggered by public statements from Sidley’s management that partners had been downgraded to create opportunities for younger lawyers, and references to its age-based retirement policy, the commission said. U.S. District Judge James Zagel rejected the firm’s argument that the attorneys shouldn’t be able to seek damages or individual relief. Sidley had argued they weren’t eligible because none of the attorneys filed individual charges of discrimination with the commission, and couldn’t therefore file actions in court for relief, according to the commission’s release.

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