Chadbourne Class Action Adds Six Partners as Defendants

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By Patrick Dorrian

Oct. 27 — The former managing partner of Chadbourne & Parke’s Kiev office has joined the $155 million sex bias class action against the law firm, and six male senior members of the firm have been added as individual defendants ( Campbell v. Chadbourne & Parke LLP , S.D.N.Y., No. 1:16-cv-06832, amended class complaint 10/27/16 ).

The amended complaint should signal to other law firms and companies with a history of sex discrimination that things just “get worse in litigation” after the opportunity for an early resolution has passed, lead class counsel David Sanford told Bloomberg BNA.

“It’s important to examine what went on and to take care of things at the front-end” before litigation becomes necessary, he said Oct. 27. Sanford is the chairman of Sanford Heisler LLP in Washington.

Abbe Lowell, who heads Chadbourne’s litigation department, is among the new defendants. According to the amended class complaint filed Oct. 27, Lowell reacted to Kerrie Campbell’s filing of the original complaint by placing a cartoon on her office wall and tearing down a postcard containing a quote by Nelson Mandela about equality. Lowell’s actions were caught on videotape, the new complaint asserts.

Lowell didn’t respond Oct. 27 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment. The firm issued a statement that said the new complaint is “riddled with falsehoods.”

Pay Gripe Preceded Ousting

Campbell, a former partner in Chadbourne’s Washington office, sued the firm Aug. 31, accusing it of systematically mistreating female partners based on sex, including with regard to pay and power in the firm.

Campbell says she generated more than $5 million in “total collections” for Chadbourne in her little more than two years as a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office but was paid consistently less than male partners who originated less—and in some instances, no—business. She complained, and the firm’s all-male management committee secretly voted to oust her from the firm, telling her she didn’t fit Chadbourne’s “strategic direction.”

The other new defendants are current or former members of Chadbourne’s management committee who decided to fire Campbell.

The new class representative is Jaroslawa Z. Johnson, the former managing partner of Chadbourne’s Kiev office who currently is the chief executive officer of a private equity firm, according to an Oct. 27 statement from Sanford Heisler.

Complaint Still ‘Riddled With Falsehoods,’ Firm Says

The lawsuit against Chadbourne, which originally sought $100 million in damages, now seeks $155 million for Campbell, Johnson and all female lawyers who are, were or will be partners in any of the firm’s offices at any time between August 2013 and the date of judgment.

The amended complaint adds new allegations and additional claims, including against Lowell and the management committee members individually. It also includes new allegations about the firm’s discriminatory compensation system, Sanford said.

The Mandela quote Lowell tore down said, “It will forever remain an accusation and a challenge to all men and women of conscience that it took as long as it has before all of us stood up to say: ‘enough is enough,’ ” according to the amended complaint. In its place, he allegedly “affixed a large smiley face graphic” on the wall of Campbell’s office. He also hung a cartoon that consisted of a “figure of a fat man wearing a bowler hat” which was placed “next to the smiley face graphic in an attempt to make a mockery of Mandela’s words,” according to the complaint.

Responding to the new charges, Chadbourne says it will do its talking in court.

“After devoting themselves to fully two months of media publicity, Kerrie Campbell and her counsel have finally deigned to serve Chadbourne with their long-promised amended complaint,” a firm spokesperson said in a statement provided to Bloomberg BNA Oct. 27. “Now that this amended complaint at long last has been filed, Chadbourne can respond in court with the full force of the facts and law that are absent from their pleading and even more so from their unprofessional and irresponsible interviews. The amended complaint is as riddled with falsehoods as the original complaint.”

“Ms. Johnson was the equity partner in charge of our office in Kiev,” the statement added. “Chadbourne closed its office in the Ukraine in 2014 after a number of money-losing years made worse by political turmoil and a challenging economic climate. As previously stated, Chadbourne categorically denies all of the suit’s allegations against the Firm, including the charges of gender discrimination.”

More Law Firms to Be Sued?

Sanford, whose firm has a strong track record of successful class sex bias litigation against other industries—including obtaining a $19.5 million settlement from Qualcomm Inc. July 26—told Bloomberg BNA that class lawsuits against other big law firms may be coming.

“We do plan similar suits against other firms, mostly big but not all,” but whether they come to pass depends on the outcome of current settlement talks, he said. “We’re trying to resolve” the disputes with the other firms presuit, but if that doesn’t happen “we will file,” he said.

Sanford expects his firm will be successful in most but not all of those negotiations, so more class actions should be coming “in the near future,” he said. “I don’t anticipate anything by the end of the year,” he said, indicating that new litigation in this area would most likely come in the first quarter of 2017.

Campbell is a member of Bloomberg BNA’s Product Safety & Liability Reporter advisory board.

Jeremy Heisler and Andrew C. Melzer in New York, Kevin Love Hubbard in San Francisco and Saba Bireda in Washington, all of Sanford Heisler, also represent the proposed class. No attorney has filed an appearance yet for Chadbourne.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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