Female Chadbourne Partners Win Discovery on ‘Employee’ Status

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By Patrick Dorrian

Chadbourne & Parke will have to wait a little longer to see if it can get a sex discrimination lawsuit by female partners thrown out of court.

That’s the upshot of a June 14 ruling that granted lead plaintiff Kerrie Campbell and two other female partners limited discovery on the question of whether they are or were “employees” of the law firm entitled to protection under federal and local anti-discrimination laws ( Campbell v. Chadbourne & Parke LLP , 2017 BL 201531, S.D.N.Y., No. 16-CV-6832, 6/14/17 ). Discovery is a pre-trial process during which parties to a lawsuit exchange their potential evidence.

The women are suing on behalf of themselves and a proposed class of similarly situated current and former female employees for alleged gender-based pay and other discrimination. They seek $155 million in damages.

A determination of whether the women are or were employees of Chadbourne for purposes of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the other laws they sue under is crucial to any ruling on the law firm’s motion for summary judgment and other preliminary motions in the case, Judge J. Paul Oetken of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York said.

The judge ordered discovery restricted to that issue and said Chadbourne may renew its motion once that discovery has been completed.

The U.S. Supreme Court established a six-factor test for determining whether participants in a partnership such as Chadbourne are true “partners” who can’t sue under the employment laws or protected employees, Oetken said. The factors include whether the law firm had the right to control the women’s work and whether it could hire and fire them, he said.

In bringing the motion, Chadbourne argued that because the women held or hold the title “partner” and are or were parties to the firm’s partnership agreement, they can’t successfully assert that they’re really employees. But the Supreme Court made clear that job titles and employment agreements alone don’t necessarily answer the question, Oetken said.

Sanford Heisler LLP represented the proposed class. Proskauer Rose LLP represented 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; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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