Female Ogletree Lawyers Allege Systemic Sex Bias, Seek $300M(1)

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By Patrick Dorrian

Ogletree Deakins discriminates against female shareholders as a class, denying them equal pay, promotions, and other job opportunities, a $300 million lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco charges.

The proposed class action complaint is the latest is a line of multi-million dollar sex discrimination lawsuits filed against big name management-side labor and employment law firms. Chadbourne & Parke and Proskauer Rose are among the others that have been sued.

Male Ogletree shareholders dominate decision-making “at every level of the Firm’s management and leadership structure,” the Jan. 12 complaint filed by attorney Dawn Knepper says. Knepper is a nonequity shareholder in Ogletree’s Orange County, Calif., office, and she brings the lawsuit on behalf of herself and all similarly situated female nonequity shareholders. Ogletree has 52 offices in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Europe.

The firm’s male-dominated power structure—roughly 80 percent of its equity partners are men—results in women lawyers being denied proper credit for their work and the business they bring to Ogletree, the complaint says. Women are also denied the same training and business development opportunities provided to male lawyers as a result of a “culture that marginalizes, demeans, and undervalues women,” according to the lawsuit.

Knepper seeks more than $300 million in damages and other relief on behalf of the class.

Firm Says Female Lawyers Make More in California

Ogletree Deakins said in a statement that it takes the allegations in Knepper’s complaint “very seriously” and that it “will confidently defend the firm against” her claims.

The firm doesn’t tolerate bias of any kind, and female shareholders in California—both equity and nonequity—have made more on average in each of the last four years than their male counterparts, the statement emailed to Bloomberg Law Jan. 15 by the firm’s director of communications said. In addition, the majority of attorneys promoted to shareholder over the same period have been women, Ogletree said.

“As part of our efforts to promote equity, we recently formed a task force to study issues relating to the advancement and recognition of women at the firm” and have since adopted several measures to further enhance pay equity, extended leave, and similar workplace policies, the firm said. “We are also proud that our firm has been recently recognized by at least 10 leading organizations for our achievements in diversity and gender inclusion.”

The case is Knepper v. Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. , N.D. Cal., No. 3:18-cv-00303, class complaint filed 1/12/18 .

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com

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