A little more than a month after being sued by recently departed partner Constance Ramos in a California state court, Winston & Strawn is seeking to push her sexual discrimination and retaliation complaint into arbitration.
In court papers filed last week in San Francisco County Superior Court, Winston & Strawn and its lawyers claimed that Ramos is bound by the firm’s partnership agreement to arbitrate any “disputes or controversies” arising from her time at the firm, which she joined in 2014 from Hogan Lovells.
Lynne Hermle, a top employment litigation partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in Silicon Valley, and litigation co-leader Jessica Perry are leading a team from the firm representing Winston & Strawn in the litigation that includes senior associate Alexandra Pavlidakis. Court papers filed by all three lawyers show that Winston & Strawn also asserts that Ramos’ “allegations are untenable as a matter of law, including because they are each based on an alleged employment relationship.”
Other large law firms, such as Chadbourne & Parke and Proskauer Rose, have sought to dismiss gender bias suits on the grounds that the individuals bringing them are or were partners in a partnership, not employees protected by antidiscrimination laws.
A declaration submitted by Orrick’s Perry to the court last week states that Winston & Strawn has agreed to pay for the services of a neutral arbitrator under the JAMS Employment Arbitration Rules. A copy of Winston & Strawn’s partnership agreement, dated Sept. 1, 2006, and amended as of Feb. 1, 2010, is attached as an exhibit to Perry’s declaration.
Winston & Strawn submitted another declaration by Catherine Winters, a senior administrative secretary with the firm, asserting that Ramos was provided with—and signed—a copy of its partnership agreement. Attached as an exhibit to Winters’ declaration are email correspondence she had with Ramos from the time the latter joined the firm from Hogan Lovells in May 2014.
Orrick’s Hermle successfully represented venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in its gender bias victory over former investment partner Ellen Pao in 2015. Pao, who began her career as an associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, recently released a memoir recounting her time in Big Law and the business sector.
Ramos, a former Honolulu high school classmate of President Barack Obama, left Winston & Strawn this summer and now has her own Oakland, California-based intellectual property firm called Akira IP. Noah Lebowitz, a name partner at San Francisco’s Duckworth Peters Lebowitz Olivier, is representing Ramos in her suit against Winston & Strawn.