Six female former Jones Day associates have accused the firm of widespread gender discrimination, claiming its “black box” compensation model, leadership structure and culture serve to systematically deny women equal pay and opportunity for advancement.
The women detailed their allegations in a proposed $200 million class action filed Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C., federal court.
Their 107-page complaint is the latest gender discrimination action against a large law firm brought by Sanford Heisler Sharp, which has also targeted Morrison & Foerster, Proskauer Rose and Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, among others. The firm also filed a separate gender bias suit against Jones Day last year on behalf of former partner Wendy Moore.
“Jones Day’s fraternity culture presents female attorneys at Jones Day with an unpalatable choice: participate in a culture that is at best inhospitable to women and at worst openly misogynistic or forego any hope of success at the firm,” the latest complaint said. “For a female associate to succeed at Jones Day, she must at least tolerate the stereotyped expectations of the firm’s male power brokers. To challenge these expectations by word or deed, even in settings ostensibly provided for ‘honest’ feedback, is career suicide.”
Representatives for Jones Day did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.
Two named plaintiffs in the proposed class action, Nilab Rahyar Tolton and Andrea Mazingo, worked as associates in Jones Day’s Irvine, California, office until 2018. (They are now associates in the Los Angeles area at Call & Jensen and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, respectively.) Two of the anonymous women also worked in California, while the other two were based elsewhere.
Together, the six plaintiffs provide a vivid account of how compensation and partnership decisions were allegedly tilted against them and other women at the firm, while female associates also allegedly endured regular incidents of harassment and humiliation.
“The complaint chronicles how male senior partners give the best work to male associates, who earn more and are promoted more rapidly, and how female lawyers’ work is regularly undervalued,” Deborah Marcuse, Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Baltimore managing partner, said in a statement. She is joined in representing the plaintiffs by Washington, D.C.-based chairman David Sanford and New York managing partner Russell Kornblith.
The complaint begins with an account of Jones Day’s management system, under which it says Washington, D.C.-based Stephen Brogan runs the firm with “unchecked autonomy.” Brogan makes all compensation and promotion decisions for the firm, the complaint says, pointing to press reports and the firm’s own website.
“The evaluation process can be manipulated, and upon information and belief regularly is so manipulated, to justify pushing women out,” the complaint said. “Perhaps unsurprisingly in a firm where pay and promotion decisions are made by a single managing partner, these evaluations are easily marshaled to justify any given course of action.”
The “consensus statements” that allegedly underpin compensation and partnership decisions are riddled with gender stereotypes, the complaint alleges: “The tireless, childless female associate is inadequately ‘fun’ and excessively ‘intense’; the high-performing associate mother of small children is ‘deadline challenged’ or lacks ‘commitment.’”
The complaint also describes a frat-house atmosphere at the firm. At one unidentified office, male partners allegedly kick off the firm’s holiday party by encouraging drinking in the office, followed by alcohol-fueled dancing, during which male managers “gawk” at dancing female associates for amusement. At another office, during a summer associate event at a partner’s home, after a female summer associate was allegedly pushed into the swimming pool while wearing a white dress, the male summer associate who pushed her was “applauded and high-fived” by leadership rather than reprimanded.
The complaint also called the firm’s efforts to provide support for women “window dressing”—a women’s affinity lunch group was allegedly mocked by male attorneys as an opportunity “to talk about women things and having kids.”
Tolton said that pregnancy led to the end of her tenure at Jones Day. She claims that while she initially excelled at the firm, she was also assigned secretarial-type work because of her gender. She allegedly saw her 2014 raise reduced after inquiring at a firm-sponsored event about female advancement and the firm’s protocols for requesting a part-time schedule and providing notice of pregnancy. The firm then allegedly froze her salary when she took leave for her first pregnancy, and forced her out of the firm days after she returned from her second maternity leave.
Mazingo, the other named plaintiff, alleged that she was routinely treated as a sex object by her supervising partners, who at the same time denied her mentorship and professional attention. She said in the complaint that the heightened expectations placed on female associates, when combined with the lack of support, ultimately prompted her to seek medical leave.
After one weekend of leave and a panic attack upon being berated by a partner for how she communicated the leave request, Mazingo ultimately left the firm and was subsequently hospitalized for three days after a relapse of fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disease, she alleges.
Mazingo is now managing associate for Orrick’s LA office, according to her bio on the firm’s website.
The complaint seeks to represent a class of all female associates who are, have been or will be employed by Jones Day in the United States. The class claims fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, the latter of which applies to allegedly discriminatory decisions made by Brogan.
“Jones Day proudly touts that it is not like its peer firms, because it does not pay its associates in lockstep. However, plaintiffs allege that this ‘black box’ compensation system masks gender discrimination in pay. It is time for Jones Day to open the black box and implement full pay transparency,” Kornblith said in a statement.
Read the complaint in Tolton v. Jones Day: