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The old guard has been getting its dander up. First there was Sidley Austin, where partners are challenging the firm’s mandatory retirement policy. Other lawyers have followed, and just last week one Washington attorney filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that he was fired from one of the city’s largest firms because he was too old. Donald Gross, who is in his 50s, says he was let go from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in October 2004, not even a year and a half after he was hired as senior counsel in the Korea practice. Before his termination, Gross alleges that his practice group’s head, Sukhan Kim, “reiterated to him that Akin Gump was terminating him not because of any defects in his performance, but because he was �too senior’ because of his age and, therefore, �not a good fit.’” Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman partner Christine Kearns, who is representing Akin Gump, says the firm treated Gross fairly. “The firm certainly denies the allegations of age discrimination,” she says. Gross’ case differs from some of the other suits that allege more systemic problems or forced retirements. But it paints a picture of the trouble an older attorney had acclimating to life in a law firm. According to the complaint, Kim was skeptical of Gross’ age from the start. “You seem very old to be starting out in a major law firm,” Kim allegedly told Gross before he was hired. (Before joining Akin Gump, Gross had worked at the State Department and National Security Council and practiced law in South Korea.) Troubles grew worse, Gross states, after he took three weeks off for heart surgery in March 2004. When he returned, Gross alleges, Kim sidelined him and forced him to report to a much younger partner. The complaint says another partner, Michael Quigley hinted that Gross’ experience “made him �perfect’ for a job with a policy think tank” but that he was too old to continue with the practice group. Then, despite positive evaluations of his work, Gross also says, Kim came up with a “60-day exit strategy” for Gross. Reached by phone, Kim declined to go into details but said, “I can just tell you that that is totally and actually false.” Gross, who is represented by Bruce Fredrickson and Jonathan Puth at Webster, Fredrickson & Brackshaw, is asking for his job back and unspecified compensation for back pay and damages.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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