After initially keeping silent, Jones Day has responded publicly to a $200 million proposed gender bias class action brought by six associates last week, vowing to fight the claims and touting its commitment to women’s inclusion and advancement.
In a statement posted on the firm’s website, Jones Day said it provided women flexibility in their path to partnership and highlighted the leadership roles women play in the firm. The majority of its women partners are mothers who took family leave and often worked flexible schedules, the statement said.
“Jones Day is proud of its success in promoting a diverse group of outstanding lawyers,” the firm said. “The success of Jones Day’s women lawyers has been supported by our inclusive culture that rewards talent, teamwork, integrity, and mutual commitment to our clients and the firm.”
In a complaint filed April 3 in federal court in Washington, D.C., six female former Jones Day associates alleged widespread gender discrimination, claiming the firm’s “black box” compensation model, leadership structure and culture serve to systematically deny women equal pay and opportunity for advancement.
They are being represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp, which has sued a number of other large law firms over gender discrimination and which also filed a separate gender bias suit against Jones Day last year on behalf of former partner Wendy Moore.
The new plaintiffs—two who worked in the firm’s Irvine, California, office and four who are proceeding anonymously—provided 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.
Jones Day did not directly address their allegations of a “fraternity culture” at the firm, instead electing to refute charges in the complaint that women, and working mothers in particular, were systematically denied opportunities to advance.
The firm noted that more than half of the U.S. lawyers promoted to the partnership in January 2019 were women (18 of 35), asserting that almost three-quarters of them had taken or were on family leave at the time of promotion. The previous year, 42 percent of U.S. lawyers made partner were women, and approximately 71 percent of them had taken leave.
Jones Day’s 240 women partners comprise just over 26 percent of the partnership, based on a count of 919 partners in 2018 provided by the firm. That figure is slightly above the 23.36 percent industrywide figure for 2018 calculated by the National Association for Legal Placement. Jones Day ranked 77th in the National Law Journal’s Women’s Scorecard last year, based on 2017 demographics.
In its statement, the firm also addressed the composition of its leadership ranks, emphasizing that 17 of its offices and regions—including its largest region—are led by women partners, almost all of whom have children, it said. The firm also said that five women, all of whom took family leave, sit on its 17-member partnership committee, which advises on partner admissions and compensation.
One of the chief points in the lawsuit is that managing partner Stephen Brogan has sole authority to make compensation and partnership decisions in the firm.
Jones Day’s rebuttal said that 40 percent of the members of its advisory committee are women, and almost all are mothers. It also stated that women serve as the relationship partner for hundreds of clients, including two of the firm’s five largest clients.
The firm also said that its largest practice group, business and tort litigation, is co-chaired by a woman, litigator Stephanie Parker, and that the leader of its issues and appeals practice, Beth Heifetz, became the practice leader while working part-time after returning from a multiyear family leave.
“These statistics belie the recent claims of six former associates (four unnamed) that women—and, in particular, women who take family leave—cannot succeed at Jones Day. The claims of pay discrimination—made only ‘on information and belief,’ without any factual support—are equally without merit,” the firm said, adding that it intends to litigate the case in court, not in the media.
The firm had not yet indicated who would be representing it in any court filings, and a spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.