After a leadership change in its technology department last year, Blank Rome is facing allegations of gender discrimination and age discrimination.
Marion Letterie, Blank Rome’s former director of telecommunications, sued the firm and its former chief information officer, Laurence Liss, on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She alleges that she was fired because of her complaints of gender bias in the firm’s technology department, and because of her age.
Blank Rome has said Letterie’s claims are meritless.
Liss announced his retirement from the firm last year, when Andrea Markstrom was hired as Blank Rome’s new CIO. He stayed on as CIO emeritus for several months to ease the transition, but officially left the firm in February of this year, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Letterie worked in the firm’s Philadelphia office for more than three decades, starting out as a secretary’s assistant in December 1983, her complaint said. She worked her way up to the director position, but she was dismissed from the firm in September 2017.
During her employment, Letterie alleged, she was paid a lower salary and bonus than men in similar positions. She alleged that in 2008, when her pay dipped by at least $10,000 due to market conditions, male staff at the director level did not suffer similar reductions in pay.
Letterie alleged that Blank Rome and Liss gave her performance feedback colored by gender biases, assigned her clerical duties that were outside the scope of her job as a technology department employee, and expected her to do the paperwork of other technology employees.
The complaint also alleged that Liss repeatedly denied Letterie’s requests for additional resources or training, and excluded her from network operations meetings. When she requested to be involved in the network group so she could better manage the firm’s transition to voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology, the complaint said, she was told she “was ‘aspiring above her station.’”
Beginning in 2004, the complaint said, Letterie made complaints to the firm about these alleged instances of bias, including a formal complaint in 2016 alleging gender-based pay disparities. She alleged that none of these complaints was investigated by the firm.
In April 2017, Letterie filed an external complaint for the first time, with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.
After Markstrom was hired, Letterie received a 3.5 percent raise and a $15,000 bonus, which she alleged in her complaint was not sufficient given her work the previous year on transitioning the firm to a VoIP system. She alleged that Liss continued to influence decisions on her pay after Markstrom joined the firm.
In August 2017, Letterie was notified that her employment would be terminated the following month “as part of a purported ‘reduction of force’ within the technology department,” the complaint said.
At the time, she noted, she was the oldest non-administrative employee in the technology department, at 63 years old. She alleged that her firing was motivated by her gender discrimination complaints and her age.
Letterie is seeking reinstatement to her position at Blank Rome, as well as lost compensation and other damages. Julie Uebler of Greenblatt, Pierce, Funt & Flores is representing her.
In a statement Friday, a spokeswoman for Blank Rome said: “The firm has thoroughly investigated the allegations of this complaint. They are meritless, and will be vigorously contested.”