Proskauer Rose on Tuesday asked a Washington, D.C. federal judge to toss a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by an anonymous female partner, arguing she cannot sue because she is an owner and not employee of the firm.
Filed in May, the suit claims the Jane Doe plaintiff, identified only as a partner in Proskauer’s Washington, D.C. office, was objectified by male partners at the firm, paid less than male partners who were less productive than her, and excluded from projects once she began complaining.
“Even putting aside the utter falsity of plaintiff Jane Doe’s allegations of gender discrimination and retaliation, Doe is a highly compensated business owner who bargained for and enjoyed the authority and benefits of law firm equity partnership, but now seeks to invoke statutes that only protect the interests of employees,” Proskauer said in a motion to dismiss and for summary judgment.
The firm is being represented by several of its own litigators, including Colin Cass and Kathleen M. McKenna.
In a declaration in support of the motion for summary judgment, Proskauer chairman Joseph M. Leccese said the firm’s partners are not employees because they set their own work and schedules, are given access to the firm’s financial information, and report their earnings to the IRS as self-employed business owners, not as employees.
“Proskauer’ s equity partners are business owners, who have autonomy over their work and do not report to ‘management’ as would an ‘employee,’” Leccese wrote.
Federal and state anti-discrimination laws at issue in the case, including The Equal Pay Act, the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, and the Maryland Equal Pay For Equal Work Law, require that the plaintiff be an employee.
Plaintiff’s counsel Alexandra Harwin of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP disagreed with Proskauer’s contention that partner Jane Doe is not an employee of the firm.
“Proskauer wrongly asserts that law firm partners are not entitled to the full protections of this country’s laws against discrimination and retaliation,” Harwin said in a statement. “Proskauer’s attempt to avoid responsibility for its discriminatory and retaliatory conduct is improper.”
The argument that law firm partners are not employees is a known defense in employment litigation involving high-level professionals, and it is also central to a separate, pending gender discrimination suit against Chadbourne & Parke.
The Chadbourne Case
On Wednesday, in the Chadbourne case, Manhattan District Court Judge J. Paul Oetken denied a slew of motions, saying they all required him to rule on whether Chadbourne partners are considered employees under the relevant laws. He said discovery is needed for him to be able to make that call.
The motions included Chadbourne’s bid for dismissal and summary judgment, plaintiff and former Chadbourne partner Kerrie Campbell’s motion to dismiss Chadbourne’s counter-claims against her, and the plaintiffs’ motion for conditional collective action certification under the Equal Pay Act.
The plaintiffs in that case, Campbell and two other former partners, are also being represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp. Chadbourne is being represented by Kathleen M. McKenna of Proskauer.
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