Drinker Biddle & Reath has settled a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a black legal assistant in its Princeton, New Jersey, office, who claimed she was paid less than colleagues because of her race and was subject to racially insensitive comments.
Syneetra Hill sued Drinker Biddle on July 26 in Mercer County Superior Court, and the case was dismissed pursuant to a confidential settlement on Sept. 27. Hill’s lawyer, Allan Schorr, said he is unable to discuss the terms other than to say “the matter is resolved,” and his client is no longer working at Drinker Biddle. But he added that his client is pleased with the outcome.
“It was an important case and I’m glad it was resolved,” said Schoor, of Schoor & Associates in Cherry Hill.
Drinker Biddle said in a statement, “We are pleased to have resolved this matter.”
A stipulation of dismissal with prejudice states that Hill, Drinker Biddle and attorney Marsha Beidler, who was also named as a defendant, have entered into a confidential settlement agreement that includes a release of the plaintiff’s claims. The court retained jurisdiction for the purpose of enforcing provisions of the settlement.
Hill’s suit claimed that Drinker Biddle’s Princeton office maintains a corporate culture that is hostile to African-Americans. She said that a former supervisor of hers, who was not identified, kept Confederate memorabilia in his office at the law firm. Later, she was assigned to work with Beidler, an attorney who is of counsel and practices trust and estate law. The complaint alleges that Beidler created a racially hostile environment with her offensive comments.
The suit said Beidler once referred to Hill as “our slave” in the presence of a client, who appeared shocked to hear the remark. Beidler tried to correct herself by saying that Hill works like a slave, the suit claims.
In another instance, Beidler allegedly told Hill that segregation was “good for blacks because at least they could go to their own colleges.” Beidler, according to the suit, also expressed surprise to learn Hill was vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard, even though many black families have long vacationed there.
And in another alleged instance, on seeing a picture of Hill’s 1-year-old son, Beidler said “he should be ready to get a basketball in his hands,” the lawsuit said.
Hill said she complained about Beidler to management, and was told that the firm corroborated her complaints but concluded that Beidler did not mean to offend her. The suit also said she received a memo from the firm, in May 2017, stating that Beidler would undergo sensitivity training. But Beidler never had any sensitivity training, Hill claimed.
Hill was moved to another location in the office and assigned to a different attorney after complaining about Beidler. After that, Beidler regularly walked across the office to use a copier near Hill’s desk, even though another copier is closer to Beidler’s office, according to the lawsuit. While doing so, Beidler loudly slammed books and made noises to annoy and harass the plaintiff, the lawsuit claimed.
Hill also claimed she received smaller raises and bonuses since she brought her discrimination complaint to management.
Hill was an 11-year veteran of Drinker Biddle’s Princeton office. She said in court papers that the firm celebrates diversity on its website, but no black attorneys ever worked in the Princeton office during the time she was there. She and a mailroom worker were the only black employees out of 45 people working there, she said. The firm’s website lists 28 lawyers at the Princeton office.
Thomas Barton, an attorney who signed the settlement on behalf of Drinker Biddle, and Jonathan Epstein, the partner in charge of the Princeton office, did not return calls for comment. Beidler also did not respond to a request for comment.