(Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM)
SAN FRANCISCO — Traci Ribeiro, the Sedgwick partner who sued the firm earlier this year for gender discrimination, will have to make her case in arbitration, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California found that the firm’s partnership agreement put the question of whether internal firm disputes are subject to arbitration in the hands of an arbitrator. In a six-page order, Alsup also wrote that Ribeiro “had the requisite sophistication to understand” that provisions of Sedgwick’s agreement, which she signed in February 2012 after being elected a nonequity partner and again later that year when it was amended, would route her claims to arbitration.
Traci Ribeiro.Courtesy photo
Ribeiro, an insurance lawyer in the firm’s Chicago office, sued the firm in July on behalf of a proposed class of female employees at the San Francisco-based Am Law 200 firm. Ribeiro claims that she repeatedly was denied a promotion to equity partner, despite being the third-highest revenue generator at the 300-lawyer firm. The suit, originally filed in state court in San Francisco and later removed to federal court, also claims that male associates have been paid as much as $50,000 more than their female colleagues at Sedgwick.
Speaking to reporters after a hearing in the case last month, Ribeiro described her dispute with the firm in the context of the wider struggle for women to get equal pay in the legal industry. She noted a recent report on partner pay that found women partners make 44 percent less than their male counterparts. “We plan to keep fighting whether it be in court or in arbitration,” she said a the time.
Ribeiro’s lawyer, Bryan Wood of the Wood Law Office in Chicago, said in a press release that the arbitration agreement his client signed doesn’t apply to her gender discrimination and Equal Pay Act claims because of limits it places on discovery. Wood said he intends to press that argument to former Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Robert Baines, the arbitrator at JAMS now set to oversee Ribeiro case.
Sedgwick’s counsel, Nick Geannacopulos of Seyfarth Shaw, didn’t immediately respond to a message Thursday morning
Alsup, a federal judge with a reputation for speaking his mind from the bench, openly lamented the state of the law on arbitration at last month’s hearing. But he wrote on Wednesday that U.S. Supreme Court precedent bound him to send the suit to arbitration. The judge declined to dismiss Ribeiro’s claims altogether and instead stayed the federal court case.
“If the arbitration fails to move forward promptly despite plaintiff’s best efforts, the court will consider lifting the stay,” he wrote.