Kerrie Campbell, partner with Chadbourne & Parke, in Washington, D.C. September 1, 2016. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM. (Diego M. Radzinschi)
Plaintiffs led by current Chadbourne & Parke litigation partner Kerrie Campbell and former Kiev office managing partner Jaroslawa Zelinsky Johnson have filed an amended complaint in their $100 million gender bias suit against the firm, adding to the list of defendants and providing additional evidence they claim shows a culture of bias at Chadbourne.
Proskauer Rose labor and employment litigation partner Kathleen McKenna in New York has been retained to represent Chadbourne in the case, which began in late August when Campbell filed a suit on behalf of 26 current and former female partners claiming that Chadbourne routinely underpaid women and excluded them from positions of authority at the firm.
Chadbourne has vigorously denied the allegations in Campbell’s complaint, which now names several individual male partners as defendants and includes an alleged video of the firm’s head of litigation re-arranging items in Campbell’s office in Washington, D.C. Earlier this month, Johnson became the first woman to publicly identify herself as one of the plaintiffs seeking to join Campbell’s case against Chadbourne.
The American Lawyer subsequently spoke with Johnson about her decision to enter the high-profile suit, and heard from three former female Chadbourne partners about the allegations levied by her and Campbell. Two of those ex-partners praised both women for coming forward and were mostly agreeable about their claims, while a third was sympathetic, but skeptical that Chadbourne made gender-based decisions on compensation and status at the firm. In mid-September, a group of 14 current female partners at Chadbourne wrote a letter chiding Campbell’s lawyer for seeking to speak for them, but did not directly address her claims.
David Sanford of New York’s Sanford Heisler, who is representing Campbell and Johnson in their suit against Chadbourne, acknowledged Thursday that there have been settlement negotiations with the firm. Sanford said he has heard from other women who worked at Chadbourne expressing interest in the case, which he added is not subject to arbitration by the firm’s partnership agreement. He declined to discuss how many of those women he thought might seek to join the litigation or provide a timeline for them doing so.
“Some people make that leap of faith early and for others it takes more time,” Sanford said. “This is an intensely personal decision, one that has professional, reputational, financial, emotional and psychological considerations. I don’t put pressure on anybody.”
Sanford said he has heard from women who were not partners at Chadbourne and is considering whether or not to expand his amended complaint. Many of the allegations put forward by Campbell in her initial complaint are mirrored by Johnson in the amended complaint and include details of what she discussed with The American Lawyer earlier this month, namely, that Chadbourne routinely underpaid and excludes female partners and has retaliated against individuals who question the firm’s allegedly discriminatory practices.
As alleged evidence of that work environment, Sanford mentions in the amended complaint a video he obtained of Chadbourne partner Abbe Lowell, head of the firm’s litigation department and chair of its white-collar defense, regulatory investigations and litigation group. The new complaint states that Lowell “actively and knowingly engaged in acts or omissions in breach of his fiduciary duties to Campbell” and aided and abetted in discriminatory actions against her.
Campbell, who joined Chadbourne in early 2014 from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, said in her amended complaint that after she filed in her suit against the firm, she arrived at her office one morning and noticed that a postcard with an inscription from the late Nelson Mandela next to her nameplate had been removed. A large smiley face graphic on a piece of paper was also taped onto her office wall. Video footage from the evening of Sept. 16, 2016, purportedly shows Lowell personally taping onto Campbell’s office wall a piece of paper with a “cartoon figure of a fat man in a bowler hat alongside the smiley face” that had been put up previously.
The cartoon was taped below the postcard with the Mandela quote that Campbell had replaced next to her nameplate. Subsequent video, according to the amended complaint, shows Lowell returning to Campbell’s office to remove the cartoon image of the fat man and the smiley face graphic. Lowell then returned a third time to remove the tape he had left behind on Campbell’s office wall, alleges the amended complaint.
“This is ‘Animal House’-like hijinks perpetrated by the firm’s head of litigation,” said Sanford, adding that while the video is not yet public, it could be in time. “It’s a fraternity-type prank that shows the culture of intimidation, harassment and retaliation [at Chadbourne].”
Lowell (pictured right) is one of six Chadbourne partners named in the amended complaint as individual defendants in the case. Lowell, who re-joined Chadbourne in 2011, is the only defendant who is not a member Chadbourne’s management committee. The other new named defendants are managing partner Andrew Giaccia, who assumed leadership of the firm in late 2010, and partners Marc Alpert, Lawrence Rosenberg, Howard Seife and Paul Weber. As previously reported by The American Lawyer, all are among Chadbourne’s most powerful partners.
Seife chairs Chadbourne’s bankruptcy and financial restructuring practice, while Rosenberg is a corporate tax expert who does work for Citigroup Inc. and the wealthy Sackler family, owners of drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma LP, a maker of OxyContin and one of the firm’s largest clients. Weber is a public finance expert and Alpert a former head of Chadbourne’s public companies practice.
Alpert was the newest member of Chadbourne’s management committee, having replaced commercial litigation co-chair Thomas McCormack in the executive leadership. Alpert left the firm in July to become general counsel of New York-based conglomerate Loews Corp. He was replaced on the management committee by Istanbul office managing partner Ayse Yuksel, a woman who Johnson praised but suggested was added by the firm in order to ameliorate blowback from Campbell’s suit.
The amended complaint, while not identifying Yuksel by name, states that Chadbourne elected a woman to the management committee after the firm’s leadership was made aware of Campbell’s gender-based discrimination claims and she filed a class-wide charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on June 30, 2016. Chadbourne has said that Yuksel was an ex-officio member of the management committee for three years prior to her election by the firm’s equity partnership.
A Chadbourne spokesman said that Lowell was unavailable for immediate comment about allegations in the complaint, which include claims that he dramatically reduced Campbell’s annual compensation by taking origination credits from her on a client matter. It was Lowell and Giaccia, according to the amended complaint, who informed Campbell on Feb. 19, 2016, that she was no longer welcome at the firm. She had $440,000 in her capital account as of December 2015, but her pay was subsequently reduced to about $9,000 per month—less than a first-year associate at the Am Law 200 firm.
Chadbourne, which has seen its finances slip in recent years, provided through a spokesman a lengthy retort to Sanford’s amended complaint.
“After devoting themselves to fully two months of media publicity, Kerrie Campbell have finally deigned to serve Chadbourne with their long-promised complaint,” the firm said in a statement. “Now that this amended complaint at long last has been filed, Chadbourne can respond in court with the full force of the facts and law that are absent from their pleading and even more so from their unprofessional and irresponsible interviews.”
Chadbourne, in its statement, accused Sanford’s amended complaint of being “as riddled with falsehoods as the original complaint.” The firm said the “allegations about matters supposedly shown on a videotape are trivial and meaningless, and if anything show not harassment or retaliation but rather the opposite. Chadbourne continues to vehemently deny all the accusations against the firm, including any charge of gender discrimination.”
Sanford’s amended complaint also includes mention of a recent study by legal recruiting giant Major, Lindsey & Africa and ALM Intelligence that found a 44 percent pay gap between female partners and their male counterparts. The gender equity debate was the subject of a recent package of stories by sibling site Law.com examining standards in the legal services industry.