Norton Rose Fulbright and Chadbourne settle sex bias case with $1m payout to ex-partner
Deal resolves discrimination claims brought by three female lawyers against Chadbourne and merger partner Norton Rose Fulbright
Chadbourne & Parke and its merger partner Norton Rose Fulbright have agreed to settle a high-profile gender discrimination case brought by three former female partners, according to newly filed court papers.
To resolve the claims under the Equal Pay Act, the defendants will pay $1m to former Chadbourne partner Kerrie Campbell, $750,000 to New York of counsel Mary Yelenick and $250,000 to former Ukrainian partner Jaroslawa Johnson, as well as $1.08m in lawyer fees to plaintiffs firm Sanford Heisler Sharp.
The court papers do not disclose the entirety of the settlement. While the financial settlements – totalling more than $3m – resolve the plaintiffs’ Equal Pay Act claims, there are “separate agreements that resolve all of plaintiffs’ remaining claims against defendants,” said plaintiffs attorney David Sanford, founding partner of Sanford Heisler, in a filing.
Among the 24 counts alleged in their complaint, only four relate to the Equal Pay Act. The complaint also asserts the defendants violated city, state and federal discrimination and retaliation laws, and it asserts breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment.
The suit against Chadbourne has been the most prominent in a series of recent cases related to the gap in pay between male and female partners at big law firms, including a case brought by a former partner at now-defunct Sedgwick and another case brought by the same plaintiffs firm against Proskauer Rose.
In a statement, plaintiffs attorney Alexandra Harwin, a partner at Sanford Heisler, said: “We’re pleased that the parties have resolved the plaintiffs’ claims under the Equal Pay Act and are hopeful the court will approve the settlements.”
She declined to comment about the terms of settlement for the other claims in the suit.
In a statement, a Norton Rose Fulbright spokesman said the motion is pending with the court and “we are hopeful that it will be granted”. He declined to comment further.
Campbell originally brought the suit in 2016 as a $100m proposed class action complaint. Sanford Heisler said the suit was brought on behalf of lead plaintiff Campbell and about 26 current and former female Chadbourne partners.
The lawsuit alleged Chadbourne was run by an “all-male dictatorship” that pays women partners less and provides them fewer leadership opportunities than men. The suit alleged that female partners were paid less and receive smaller bonuses than their male counterparts and have been excluded from positions with decision-making authority.
The plaintiffs were suing Chadbourne and individual leading partners in the firm, including Abbe Lowell, Marc Alpert, Andrew Giaccia, Howard Seife, Lawrence Rosenberg and Paul Weber.
The road to settlement
The litigation became publicly acrimonious as Chadbourne filed counterclaims and the number of parties grew. Norton Rose Fulbright, which acquired Chadbourne in June 2017, was added as a defendant last October, while Johnson, a former Kiev office managing partner, petitioned to join the suit in 2016 and Yelenick, a former chairwoman of Chadbourne’s products liability group in New York, joined last year.
Chadbourne and Norton Rose Fulbright have faced several obstacles in the last several months, potentially increasing the plaintiffs’ leverage.
The settlement comes about five months after a US District Judge Paul Oetken in Manhattan shot down Chadbourne’s motions for summary judgment and to dismiss class and collective action claims, as well as denying competing claims by the plaintiffs.
Oetken in October ordered limited discovery to determine if the three former Chadbourne partners deserve protection as employees under employment laws, or if their former status as partial owners of the firm disqualifies them from bringing the suit.
As part of that discovery, Chadbourne has handed over some of the firm’s most sensitive and confidential documents, including partner compensation information and the internal communications of the firm’s management committee. Magistrate Judge Barbara Moses has ordered the individual defendants to search their personal email accounts for relevant documents.
Amid discovery last October, plaintiffs’ attorneys hinted that a fourth plaintiff could enter the case, asserting that if the parties can’t “reach prompt resolution”, the plaintiffs will seek to add her. In the end, a fourth plaintiff was not added. Court records show the parties did reach a settlement in principle for two plaintiffs just weeks after Sanford made the disclosure in court.
In court documents, Sanford said the “settlements were only achieved after hard-fought and protracted negotiations” between counsel and a JAMS mediator, Dina Jansenson. Proskauer Rose partners Kathleen McKenna and Evandro Gigante represented Chadbourne, while Steven Bierman, partner of Sidley Austin, represented Norton Rose.
- Submissions are now being accepted for the Transatlantic Legal Awards 2018, which recognise excellence in transatlantic legal work, as well as innovation, pro bono work, strategic thinking and in-house excellence. The winners will be announced at a gala dinner in London on 14 June. Click here for more information on the event.
This premium content is reserved for
Legal Week Subscribers.
Subscribe today and get 10% off.
A PREMIUM SUBSCRIPTION PROVIDES:
- Trusted insight, news and analysis from the UK and across the globe
- Connections to senior business lawyers within the leading law firms and legal departments
- Unique access to ALM's unrivalled, market-leading reporting in the US and Asia and cutting-edge research, including Legal Week's UK Top 50 and Global 100 rankings
- The Legal Week Daily News Alert, Editor's Highlights, and Breaking News digital newsletters and more, plus a choice of over 70 ALM newsletters
- Optimized access on all of your devices: desktop, tablet and mobile
- Complete access to the site's full archive of more than 56,000 articles
Already have an account? Sign In Now
For enterprise-wide or corporate enquiries, please contact Paul Reeves on Preeves@alm.com or call on +44 (0) 203 875 0651