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The federal judge in Chicago overseeing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s age discrimination suit against Sidley Austin Brown & Wood has rejected a motion to reconsider his previous denial of the firm’s motion to dismiss. Judge James Zagel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled again that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in EEOC v. Waffle House, Inc., 534 U.S. 279, gave the agency a right to seek monetary damages separate from any individual’s claim. The EEOC is suing for back pay on behalf of 31 former Sidley Austin partners who it claims were demoted in 2000 to counsel status because of age. The firm had argued that the EEOC claims for damages could not proceed because any individual claims by the demoted partners were time-barred when the agency’s suit was filed in January. Though the judge denied the firm’s motion to reconsider, he said he would certify the decision for appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In its closely watched suit against the Chicago-based law firm, the EEOC must also show that the demoted partners were “employees” subject to federal anti-discrimination laws. Though firm partners have traditionally been considered employers, the agency has argued that Sidley Austin’s centralized management structure and the lack of meaningful voting on policy issues effectively rendered the firm’s partners employees.

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