Chadbourne & Parke at 1301 6th Ave, NYC (Monika Kozak / NYLJ)
As it prepares to combine with Norton Rose Fulbright, Chadbourne & Parke is suddenly grappling with a third accuser in a $100 million gender discrimination case that has been hanging over the firm since last year.
Mary Yelenick, a former chair of Chadbourne’s products liability group and a longtime New York partner now working as of counsel at the firm, filed papers late Monday seeking to join the proposed class action as a plaintiff. According to Yelenick’s profile on professional networking website LinkedIn, she spent more than 35 years at Chadbourne after joining the firm in 1981.
“During my employment, I believe Chadbourne paid me less than men who performed similar work,” Yelenick wrote in Monday’s filing.
She is represented by David Sanford of Sanford Heisler, whose firm brought the case last August on behalf of named plaintiff Kerrie Campbell, a litigation partner at Chadbourne in Washington, D.C. A second plaintiff, former Kiev office managing partner Jaroslawa Zelinsky Johnson, joined the case in October.
In an interview Tuesday, Sanford said that he has twice tried to settle with Chadbourne, most recently Monday night, just before Yelenick filed her notice with the court. Those negotiations have been unsuccessful. Sanford is now considering whether or not to add Norton Rose Fulbright as a defendant, given the announcement last week by the firm of its intention to unite with Chadbourne sometime in the second quarter of this year.
The merger would create a firm with just under $2 billion in annual gross revenue, and the Chadbourne & Parke name would disappear as part of the combination. Media representatives for Norton Rose Fulbright and Chadbourne did not respond to requests for comment about Yelenick’s decision to join the case. Lexington Insurance Co., a Boston-based subsidiary of American International Group Inc., serves as Chadbourne’s insurance carrier in the litigation.
Proskauer Rose labor and employment litigation partner Kathleen McKenna and employment litigation and arbitration co-head Evandro Gigante are representing Chadbourne in the case. McKenna previously worked with Dechert in advising her firm on a gender discrimination settlement in 2013 with former Proskauer CFO Elly Rosenthal, also represented by Sanford.
In Campbell’s initial complaint, she said her case was filed on behalf of 26 current and former female Chadbourne partners. That spurred 14 of Chadbourne’s female partners to write a letter to Sanford chiding him for claiming to speak on their behalf. Sanford said in response that he was barred from contacting the group under a New York law precluding lawyers from soliciting other potential clients before filing a suit.
In late October, Campbell and Johnson filed an amended complaint against Chadbourne. At the time, Bloomberg Big Law Business noted that Yelenick was the only female partner at Chadbourne who hadn’t signed the letter to Sanford.
Margarita Oliva Sainz de Aja, a corporate and project finance partner with an international subsidiary of Chadbourne, also did not sign the letter. She told the New York Law Journal in January that she didn’t know about the letter until it was already sent, but would have signed it if she had.
Chadbourne has yet to file its opposition to class certification. The court also hasn’t decided a key issue that could make or break the case: whether or not law firm partners can be considered employees under Title VII of the federal Equal Pay Act. Sanford said Tuesday that there would be discovery on the question, with direction from the court on that and the class certification issue likely by late summer.
Sanford refused to say whether he had spoken with additional current or former Chadbourne lawyers who could join the case as plaintiffs. He said that he often speaks confidentially with potential clients.
“People are very concerned about economic stability, professional continuity and testing the waters for new opportunities,” Sanford said of the reluctance that many lawyers feel about joining an employment action. “Many times I will hear that people are evaluating their circumstances and will let me know if they have a reason to reconsider their options.”
At Chadbourne, Yelenick helped defend one of the firm’s largest clients, Stamford, Connecticut-based drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma, in litigation filed against the OxyContin maker over its popular pain management medication. She also once wrote an op-ed for sibling publication Law.com with Andrew Giaccia, Chadbourne’s managing partner, on how companies can defend against climate change claims.
In a letter last year to the editor of The New York Times, Yelenick, a Colorado native and ice-dancing aficionado, wrote about white privilege and the “imprint of racism” on U.S. society. She did not respond to a request for comment.
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