Greenberg Traurig and Francine Griesing, the former shareholder who sued the firm in a proposed $200 million gender-discrimination class action last year, have agreed to enter mediation in an attempt to resolve their claims, the parties told a Philadelphia federal judge Wednesday.
A joint motion to stay the case for 70 days through May 6 was filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania matter Greenberg Traurig v. Griesing. That case was filed by Greenberg Traurig around the same time Griesing filed her proposed class action complaint, Griesing v. Greenberg Traurig, in the Southern District of New York. Greenberg Traurig has asked the Philadelphia court to remove the case to arbitration, which it argued was required under its shareholder agreement.
Griesing has argued in both Philadelphia and New York that arbitration is not warranted and that it should be the New York judge to decide the matter. A hearing on that issue was scheduled for today before U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley of the Southern District of New York. In their motion to stay the Pennsylvania matter, the parties said they were filing a similar, informal application with Pauley to stay the New York action.
According to the brief motion to stay, the parties have agreed to mediation by a third-party neutral "in an effort to resolve Ms. Griesing’s claims without further litigation, either in this court or in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York."
Greenberg Traurig and Griesing said they estimated 70 days would be enough to schedule, conduct and conclude the planned mediation. The motion was silent as to who the third-party mediator would be or where the mediation would be conducted. A few hours after the motion was filed, U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted the request and placed the case on the court’s suspense docket.
Proskauer Rose’s Bettina B. Plevan, one of the attorneys representing Greenberg Traurig, declined to comment beyond the motion. Greenberg Traurig also declined to comment. The firm has called Griesing’s suit a "financially motivated publicity stunt without merit, backed by neither fact nor law."
David W. Sanford of Sanford Heisler is the lead attorney for Griesing. He did not return a call for comment.
Griesing has argued that Greenberg Traurig’s motion to compel arbitration was an attempt to preclude Griesing and the potential class from litigating their federal anti-discrimination class claims. It’s unclear what mediation would do to those class claims.
Griesing filed her lawsuit in December after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found "reasonable cause to believe" the firm discriminated against women attorneys by compensating them less than their male counterparts, according to the complaint.
Griesing, who worked at the firm from April 2007 through January 2010, alleged she was told to look for other employment after complaining about Greenberg Traurig’s compensation policies, which she said created a "boys’ club of origination" that stifled women’s ability to generate business and bill as many hours as men.
Griesing now has her own firm, Griesing Law, with seven attorneys in Philadelphia.
The class is expected to be near 215 members dating back to 2007. Sanford had said they are seeking $200 million in damages, one-quarter of which is for back and front pay, one-quarter toward compensatory damages and half of which is for punitive damages.
According to Griesing’s complaint, Greenberg Traurig has a closed compensation system in which only CEO Richard Rosenbaum makes all promotion and compensation decisions with advisement from four other male shareholders who serve as the compensation committee.
Greenberg Traurig has three shareholder levels, consisting of the 300 level, 500 level and 1,000 level. The 1,000 level is the most highly compensated, and less than 10 percent of that level are female attorneys, according to the complaint. The 1,000-level shareholders get nearly exclusive access to the firm’s retreats where they can network and refer business, Griesing alleged in the complaint. According to the complaint, the 1,000-level shareholders are estimated to earn $1 million more per year than other shareholders.
Griesing was hired at the 300 level, where all but one of the female Philadelphia shareholders were placed. According to the complaint, men with similar or less qualifications were placed in the 500 level.
"By assigning women to lower levels and delaying their promotion, the firm denies its female shareholders compensation and opportunities to which they are otherwise entitled," Griesing alleged in the complaint.
She alleged the compensation system lacks sufficient standards, quality controls, implementation metrics, transparency and oversight.
After exhausting other avenues up the food chain in the firm, Griesing said in the complaint that she was left with no other option but to go to Rosenbaum with her concerns. According to the complaint, Rosenbaum allegedly told Griesing he would not investigate her claims unless she agreed to be "’happy’" at the firm. Griesing then filed a complaint with the EEOC.
At a subsequent meeting in June 2009, Rosenbaum allegedly told Griesing she needed to leave the firm if she was going to persist in questioning her compensation, according to the complaint.
After the meeting, the firm stopped assigning Griesing work and urged her principal associate to work for another shareholder, according to the complaint. In her December 2009 annual review with Rosenbaum, Griesing said Rosenbaum "chastised" her for filing an EEOC complaint. Rosenbaum allegedly said he was finding it "’difficult to treat [Griesing] fairly,’" in light of those claims, according to the complaint.
On July 28, the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office determined Griesing had been paid $50,000 less than her nearest male counterpart; that women shareholders were on average compensated less than men at the firm; and men were more likely than women to be hired above level 300. In a subsequent portion of the EEOC finding, District Director Spencer H. Lewis Jr. said he determined there was reasonable cause to believe Greenberg Traurig violated Title VII and the Equal Pay Act by compensating Griesing and other Philadelphia-based female shareholders less favorably because of their sex.