Jaroslawa Zelinsky Johnson, a former managing partner of Chadbourne & Parke’s defunct Kiev office, filed papers Thursday with a federal court in New York seeking to join a putative class action against her former firm filed in late August by current litigation partner Kerrie Campbell.
Campbell’s $100 million bias suit said it was filed on behalf of 26 current and former female partners at Chadbourne. Johnson is the first woman to publicly identify herself as one of the plaintiffs seeking to join Campbell, who alleges that the firm routinely paid female partners less than their male counterparts and excluded them from positions of authority. Chadbourne has vigorously denied Campbell’s claims.
“[Campbell’s] complaint against the firm is riddled with falsehoods and, once the facts are fully presented, the firm is confident that her allegations will be shown to be completely baseless,” Chadbourne said in a statement after Campbell sued the firm.
Campbell’s litigation against Chadbourne spurred 14 of the firm’s female partners to write a letter to her lawyer, David Sanford of New York’s Sanford Heisler, chiding him for filing the case and seeking to speak for the firm’s female partners without contacting them first. Sanford promptly responded with a missive of his own in mid-September explaining that New York law barred him from soliciting other potential clients at the firm before filing suit.
According to court papers filed Thursday, Johnson has now asked the court to allow Sanford to represent her. A consent to join form signed by Johnson on Oct. 12 states that she “was employed by Chadbourne during some or all of the time period from three years prior to the date of this consent form. During my employment, I believe Chadbourne paid me less than men who performed similar work.”
The entry of Johnson into the suit filed by Campbell came the same day that legal recruiting giant Major, Lindsey & Africa unveiled the results of a survey showing that male partners at big firms make 44 percent more than their female counterparts. Campbell, who spoke with The American Lawyer in early 2014 about her decision to join Chadbourne from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, could see her suit change how some big firms recruit female partners.
Johnson is a daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who came to the U.S. after World War II. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Johnson returned to Ukraine in the early 1990s and carved out a niche handling cross-border transactions for companies doing business in the country. She joined Chadbourne in 2004 when the firm absorbed the Kiev and Warsaw offices of now-defunct Altheimer & Gray. Chadbourne spun-off its Warsaw office earlier this year into its own independent firm.
Johnson served as managing partner of Chadbourne’s Kiev base until August 2014, when the firm confirmed plans to close the outpost amid economic and political unrest in the country exacerbated by neighboring Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Two of Chadbourne’s partners in the Ukrainian capital joined other firms, while Johnson relocated to the U.S. and took a senior counsel role in the firm’s offices in New York and Washington, D.C.
In February 2015, Johnson was named president and CEO of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), a $150 million regional private equity firm focused on the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Moldova. (In September, WNISEF announced plans to invest $5 million in Ukrainian information technology projects.) Johnson is currently based in WNISEF’s Chicago headquarters, but frequently travels to Eastern Europe for work. She was traveling overseas Thursday and unavailable to discuss her reasons for joining Campbell’s case against Chadbourne.
Sanford, who is counseling Campbell in the litigation, did not return a request for comment. A Chadbourne media representative also did not have an immediate comment on the matter. Lawyers for the firm have not yet entered an appearance in the case.
Earlier this month, The American Lawyer caught up with several female lawyers who filed suit against their former firms for gender discrimination.