Chadbourne & Parke offices in Washington, D.C.
Chadbourne & Parke offices in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Three current and former female partners seeking conditional certification of a gender bias class action against Chadbourne & Parke saw the firm file its response opposing that motion late Thursday.

Chadbourne’s managing partner Andrew Giaccia and former firm products liability chair Mary Yelenick, who is among the three women suing the firm, also both filed papers making accusations against their adversaries.

A declaration signed by Yelenick on March 22 accompanies a motion by plaintiffs citing “substantial evidence” of “widespread pay disparities” at Chadbourne. The declaration claims that the firm pushed Yelenick and other female partners to sign a letter last September criticizing the lawyer retained to advise litigation partner Kerrie Campbell in her $100 million suit against the firm.

David Sanford of Sanford Heisler, who is representing Campbell, Yelenick and former Kiev office managing partner Jaroslawa Zelinsky Johnson in their suit against Chadbourne, subsequently struck back at the 14 female partners that signed the letter. Yelenick (pictured right) said in her declaration that Joy Langford, managing partner of Chadbourne’s office in Washington, D.C., approached her in the firm’s New York office on Sept. 6 and requested that she sign the missive.

“I reviewed the draft letter and disagreed strongly with its content,” said Yelenick in court papers, noting that she felt “the letter contained inaccuracies and mischaracterized the process by which female partners at the firm could join any potential class or collective action certified by the court.”

Yelenick states that Chadbourne litigation leader Abbe Lowell— who is named as a defendant in the case—then called her to discuss her decision not to sign the letter. A meeting was held in New York to discuss Campbell’s suit, but Yelenick was unable to attend in person. In court papers, Yelenick asserts that two partners who attended the meeting and signed the letter later told her that they “felt great pressure” to do so. (In a statement, Chadbourne claims that the firm pressured no one and that Yelenick is mistaken in her chronology of letter-related events.)

In another declaration filed with a federal court in New York earlier this month, Yelenick detailed her concerns about Chadbourne’s system for allocating origination credits to client work, claiming that the firm often made such determinations based on gender. In describing that alleged gender-based “origination inheritance” system, Yelenick cited former Chadbourne partner and former public companies’ practice head Marc Alpert, another defendant in the suit, who she said chose two male partners to inherit his clients upon leaving the firm last year to become general counsel at Loews Corp.

Alpert, in a lengthy statement provided to The American Lawyer, disputed Yelenick’s contention that he and Chadbourne made such an important decision based on gender.

“I am saddened that my former partner, who has never assisted me with any of the firm’s clients that I was responsible for, has distorted the facts about the long and thoughtful process by which relationship and billing partner responsibility was transitioned when I left Chadbourne last summer,” Alpert said. “My sole objective in that process was to put Chadbourne in the best position possible to continue to serve the many clients I had worked so hard to cultivate during my tenure at the firm in a way that addressed the clients’ needs and preferences.”

Giaccia, elected Chadbourne’s leader in 2010, said in an affidavit dated March 10 and submitted to the court Thursday that Yelenick’s compensation “was at all times commensurate with her contributions to the firm.” Despite Yelenick’s claim that she was “one of the few partners in the product liability group who ever brought new clients” to Chadbourne, Giaccia said that the vast majority of the fees she claims to have generated for the firm “actually represented collections from clients of other partners” on matters that Yelenick assisted.

“When a partner responsible for managing a particular client relationship retires or otherwise leaves the firm, the departing partner and the client work together to decide which other partner at the firm will assume responsibility for the client after the partner leaves,” said Giaccia in his affidavit in response to the allegations about Alpert.

Giaccia’s affidavit also asserts that Johnson, the former Kiev office leader who joined the case back in October, saw her annual billings steadily drop as the office began losing money amid Ukraine’s “economic, political and military turmoil.” As for Campbell, Chadbourne has included as an exhibit a copy of her offer letter, dated Nov. 26, 2013, ahead of the litigator’s move to the firm in January 2014 from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

The document shows that Campbell received a $50,000 signing bonus to join Chadbourne, which claims that her compensation was pre-set due to her being a recent lateral hire by the firm. Irrespective of her revenue generation, Campbell was given 500 points in Chadbourne’s compensation matrix. (The price per percentage point at Chadbourne, as well as the names of some other partners at the firm, are redacted in court papers.) As part of her agreement to join the firm, Campbell would receive a $150,000 bonus if her collections reached $2 million in 2014. That bonus would increase to $200,000 if her collections hit $2.5 million or more.

Chadbourne argues in its memorandum opposing conditional class certification that Campbell, Johnson and Yelenick each had unique circumstances that contributed to their annual compensation. Chadbourne, represented by Proskauer Rose, also claims that under the Equal Pay Act, plaintiffs in the suit cannot be considered employees because they are partners that share in the profits of the firm. Chadbourne, which is in the process of combining with Norton Rose Fulbright, noted in its statement that it won’t succumb to nonstop accusations.

“It is all too telling that when the firm points out the truth about plaintiffs’ misstatements, plaintiffs’ response is to complain that the firm is ‘lashing out,’” the firm said. “Plaintiffs can keep making as many false claims as there is paper to put them on, but it does not make any of them correct.”

Campbell remains a partner at Chadbourne in Washington, D.C. Yelenick retired from the firm’s partnership in December but continues to work at Chadbourne in an of counsel capacity in New York. Johnson left Chadbourne in late 2014 and is now president and CEO of the Chicago-based Western NIS Enterprise Fund, a regional private equity firm that invests in former Soviet republics.

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