Charlotte, North Carolina-based Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson faces racial discrimination claims from a former associate who alleges the law firm markets itself as committed to maintaining a diverse workforce when, in reality, it’s dominated by white males and uses women and minority lawyers as “diversity props” to attract clients.
The former associate, Sharika Robinson, lodged a race bias lawsuit against Robinson Bradshaw on Monday in Charlotte federal district court. Among other claims in her complaint, Robinson’s lawyers allege that she was lured in as an associate by false promises that her diverse background as a black woman would be embraced at the firm.
“In truth, Robinson Bradshaw secretly remains [a] ‘good ol’ boys club’ dominated by white male partners,” lawyers for Robinson wrote in her complaint. “The firm uses minorities and women lawyers as ‘diversity props’ to impress clients while overtly, systematically, implicitly, and intentionally discriminating against and oppressing them.”
Robinson was hired at the firm in February 2015 and served as a litigation associate until her departure. She is represented in the race bias action by Chicago-based solo practitioners Carmen Caruso and Linda Chatman, as well as Durham, North Carolina-based T. Gregory Doucette.
Robinson Bradshaw, which has roughly 140 lawyers across three offices in North Carolina and South Carolina, denied the discrimination claims in a statement Wednesday by the firm’s general counsel, Kate Maynard.
“Robinson Bradshaw denies Sharika Robinson’s claims, and specifically denies that the firm discriminated against her in any way,” Maynard said in the statement. “We are committed to diversity and inclusion, as evidenced by our attorneys’ contributions to the firm, profession and community as a whole.”
Beyond her allegations that the law firm’s leadership is dominated by white men, Robinson alleges that she raised complaints of potential racial bias within the firm several times, but that no action was taken as a result. She also alleges that she faced retaliation in the wake of her complaints within the firm, saying that Robinson Bradshaw cut her off from meaningful work and left her isolated.
Robinson’s complaint also references a specific set of events in December 2016, when Robinson was allegedly invited by a black male partner named Robert Harrington to a firm-sponsored holiday party. The party was only for black lawyers at Robinson Bradshaw and its attendees were barred from discussing racial issues while there, the suit alleges.
Robinson’s lawyers describe the holiday party as “segregated” and call it “an early signal she had unknowingly been recruited to a contemporary version of an old-fashioned Southern plantation.”
Along with the law firm, Robinson’s suit names four male partners as defendants. Harrington, who co-leads Robinson Bradshaw’s litigation practice, is the only black partner named as a defendant. The other three—managing partner Allen Robertson, litigator Jonathan Krisko and litigator Gregory Skidmore, who’s also a former partner at Kirkland & Ellis—are white.
The complaint includes claims under federal law that Robinson Bradshaw subjected the former associate to disparate treatment, created a hostile work environment and unlawfully retaliated against Robinson. It also includes a fraud claim against the law firm under North Carolina’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.