Two weeks have passed since Chadbourne & Parke partner Kerrie Campbell filed a class-action that accuses her firm of gender discrimination, and yet the suit continues to rear its head in the news cycle.
On Thursday, Campbell’s lawyer David Sanford released a letter he penned in response to a letter that 14 female Chadbourne partners released earlier this week , which accused him of not contacting them before filing suit.
The women had accused Sanford of casting them as victims in his complaint, and urged him to withdraw the class action allegations.
In response, Sanford’s letter makes a few points:
- It notes the women’s letter does not deny — in fact it doesn’t address at all — the factual allegations of gender discrimination in the lawsuit.
- That Sanford did not contact the women out of concern for bar rules that prohibit soliciting clients.
- That the women can opt out of the lawsuit if they do not want to participate.
- And finally, it notes 14 women do not represent all the former or current women partners working at Chadbourne & Parke.
Without further ado, we present Sanford’s letter in full below:
An Open Letter to Fourteen Female Chadbourne & Parke Partners Regarding Class Claims of Gender Discrimination Brought By Kerrie Campbell Against the Firm
From David Sanford, Chairman, Sanford Heisler, LLP
On September 12, 2016, you sent a letter to our firm, and you provided a copy to the Wall Street Journal, admonishing us for not contacting you before filing a lawsuit on behalf of you and fellow female partners at Chadbourne & Parke. You characterized our efforts to protest Chadbourne’s treatment of female partners as “patriarchal” and “patronizing.” We would like to address several of the points you made in your letter and correct some of the misconceptions regarding our firm’s work on this case.
At the outset, we note that your letter does not disavow any of the factual allegations that are the basis of the class complaint against Chadbourne. Nothing in your letter contradicts the core allegations in the complaint that Chadbourne maintains a male-dominated culture that results in pay discrimination against female partners.
As you may know, many states, including New York, where the complaint was filed, prohibit lawyers from soliciting clients with whom they have no prior relationship. You represent that our firm “made no effort” to contact any of you and that this is an indication of our lack of respect for you. While we welcome the opportunity to speak with any female Chadbourne partner interested in finding out more about the case or their rights within a class action discrimination context, our unsolicited contact with any of you arguably would have violated the legal ethics rules that we strictly follow as responsible attorneys.
Your letter suggests that we have somehow embroiled you in litigation against Chadbourne. The filing of a class action complaint is only the first step in certifying a class under federal law. You are well within your rights to decline to opt-in to the Equal Pay Act collective action or to opt-out of the class alleging gender discrimination claims under Title VII. It is up to individual women, current and former partners at Chadbourne, to decide whether to participate or not. As longstanding proponents of gender equity, we greatly appreciate that every woman in the prospective class must make a decision that makes sense for her individual circumstances. We do not seek to make that decision for you nor would we try to influence you in any way.
While we understand the fourteen of you decided to sign the letter, your letter was not signed by every female partner currently at Chadbourne nor was it signed by female partners who have left the firm. We have been contacted by current and former Chadbourne partners and associates, men and women, who feel the class action complaint captured well the claims of gender discrimination at Chadbourne. We expect to amend the complaint in October to reflect the additional information we have gathered.
It is important to note that a class action is often the only vehicle by which plaintiffs, like Ms. Campbell, can demand systemic reforms from their employers. For example, Sanford Heisler recently settled a lawsuit with a large technology company. The settlement requires that company to invest in initiatives aimed at developing female leaders and to undertake a comprehensive effort to create a more equitable workplace. Over the years we have received extensive non-monetary relief in the form of significant systemic changes in many cases we have brought and are proud of that history of accomplishment.
In this case, Ms. Campbell raises substantial allegations regarding the firm’s discrimination against female partners. We allege that Chadbourne systematically devalues its female partners and, in the process, violates the law. Whether we are correct about those claims will depend on what the documentary evidence shows.
As we proceed, Ms. Campbell will seek redress for the discrimination she claims she and others suffered and she will attempt to create long-lasting systemic changes to the firm’s management and culture. Current and former attorneys from Chadbourne have expressed support for those goals, allegiance with Ms. Campbell, and sincere wishes for a successful resolution.
Very best wishes.
David Sanford, Chairman, Sanford Heisler, LLP
September 15, 2016
UPDATED: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story included an incorrect version of the second to last paragraph.