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An attorney representing Ropes & Gray insisted at a Wednesday hearing that the firm fired a 63-year-old female partner in the fall of 2010 because it no longer made economic sense to keep her, not because it was discriminating or retaliating against her.

Based on that argument, Proskauer Rose labor and employment partner Bettina Plevan attempted to persuade U.S. District Judge John Koeltl to dismiss on summary judgment a lawsuit brought against Ropes in March 2011 by former firm partner Patricia Martone.

While the two-and-a half-hour-long hearing failed to produce a ruling, it did portray Ropes as a place where individual partners don’t know how much compensation anyone but they themselves receive and where management is quick to cast aside aging partners whose business has floundered. Martone, a patent litigator who is now with Morrison & Foerster, claims in her suit that Ropes management undermined her Asia-focused intellectual property practice for years, routinely passing off her clients and cases to younger male partners and eventually terminating her after she complained about being discriminated against.

Both parties agree that Martone, who joined Ropes in a 2005 merger between the Am Law 100 firm and intellectual property boutique Fish & Neave, approached management in June 2010 to request an investigation into what she felt was discriminatory behavior. The firm subsequently hired O’Melveny & Myers to conduct a months-long inquiry, and Ropes chairman R. Bradford Malt informed Martone at a meeting in October that rather than uncovering evidence of discrimination, the inquiry had found the economics of her practice "unsustainable," according to her complaint. Malt terminated her at that same meeting.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Koeltl zeroed in on the series of events at issue, calling the timing of Martone’s firing so soon after the investigation was completed "troubling." Koeltl did not rule from the bench, saying at the conclusion of the hearing that he would make a decision in a few weeks and urged the two parties to discuss a settlement in the meantime.

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