Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

In fending off a proposed $300 million class action gender bias suit, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, a national labor and employment firm, took the rare step this week of airing publicly its beef with a former equity partner, Tracy Warren.

In response to an inquiry by The American Lawyer about a spate of women partners leaving the firm, Ogletree issued a statement this week singling out Warren among those who had left this year and subsequently sought to join the gender bias litigation pending against the firm in a federal court in San Francisco.

“Ms. Warren was terminated from the firm following a client complaint of unprofessional and unethical conduct. Following an investigation by both the firm and outside counsel, Ms. Warren was expelled on a vote of the equity shareholders,” the firm said in its statement.

Warren, a former college softball player and part-time sports broadcaster who now works closely with collegiate sports teams and universities, joined Ogletree’s San Diego office in August 2013 from local firm Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek. The labor and employment and higher education law expert left Ogletree in February to join Buchalter in San Diego and Irvine, California. (That same month, Buchalter also brought on labor and employment partner Dawn Knepper, a former Ogletree partner who had initiated the gender bias suit against the firm in January.)

Tracy Warren

In a proposed second amended complaint filed in June, Warren alleged that Ogletree discriminated against her and retaliated after she spoke out about alleged gender disparities within the firm. Warren, who was traveling in Ireland this week, referred all questions to her lawyer, David Sanford of Sanford Heisler Sharp.

Sanford, a Big Law gender bias dispute veteran, is also representing three other former Ogletree nonequity partners serving as plaintiffs in the litigation against the firm.

“Ogletree has engaged in an unconscionable campaign of disparagement against Ms. Warren,” Sanford said. Asked about her termination from the firm, Sanford asserted that Ogletree was merely trying to justify its mistreatment of his client.

“Ogletree knew Tracy Warren was proceeding with the gender discrimination claim against it. The firm, as a result, concocted a pre-textural story to terminate Ms. Warren,” said Sanford, adding that his client “is a consummate professional, who has always engaged in ethical behavior. She did absolutely nothing wrong during her time at the firm.”

In the proposed class action gender bias litigation, Sanford’s clients have included a claim that Ogletree retaliated against a lawyer who reported allegations of discrimination.

Neither Nancy Abell, an employment litigation partner at Paul Hastings in Los Angeles representing Ogletree in the proposed class action, nor any other lawyer at her firm serving as outside counsel in the case, served as the outside counsel that conducted the inquiry leading to Warren’s termination.

For this report, Ogletree did not provide the name of the client that allegedly complained about Warren or the identity of the outside firm it hired to probe her alleged actions. Ogletree did issue a statement noting that it had “retained experienced outside counsel in another firm to interview Ms. Warren as part of the firm’s investigation of a client complaint of unethical conduct by her.”

Before leaving the firm, Warren asked Ogletree’s management to conduct a pay-equity audit, said a former nonequity partner at the firm who requested anonymity in discussing internal firm matters.

“She was very vocal about it. It doesn’t surprise me that they would try and make a disparaging argument about her reputation,” the same lawyer said. “I think they know they have a big problem.”

So far this year, Ogletree, with roughly 750 lawyers, has lost at least 10 women partners—the firm uses the title “shareholder” to identify them—although it has hired two more by bringing on Lisa Hamasaki in San Francisco and Cécile Martin in Paris.

In all of 2017, the firm also watched a similar number of female partners head for the door, with Alexandra Bodnar, Donelle Buratto and Patricia Perez taking in-house jobs and Beth Gunn and Catherine Coble forming Los Angeles-based equal pay firm Gunn Coble.

For its part, Ogletree maintains that it has taken steps to address diversity and inclusion issues, measures that have had some success. Earlier this week, the firm was named one of the best for working women in a survey conducted by Working Mother magazine and the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal.