Irony: When a law firm that advises employers how to avoid discrimination suits gets sued for discrimination.
That’s the word from Northern California, where international firm Ogletree Deakins — which has offices in North Carolina (Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro) and South Carolina (Charleston and Columbia) — is facing a $300 million, class action lawsuit filed by one of its female attorneys.
Dawn Knepper, a non-equity shareholder based in Ogletree’s Orange County (California) office, accuses her employer of nearly 13 years of intentionally holding back women while promoting their male counterparts. Knepper says men dominate the firm’s leadership, control the compensation decisions, make more money, and get better job assignments, while women are marginalized, demeaned, and undervalued.
All of this, the suit alleges, is the “product of continuing systemic discrimination against female shareholders.” Knepper further alleges that women, even when they do the bulk of the work, are disproportionately selected to be “responsible” or “working” attorneys rather than “originating or managing” attorneys. These designations apparently make for impressive billable hours, responsible credits, and working credits, but don’t translate to equal compensation across the board, the suit says.
The Charlotte Observer reported that Ogletree released a statement calling equal opportunity a “core principle” of the firm, adding that it doesn’t tolerate any form of discrimination. Earlier this month, in fact, Ogletree boasted in a press release that it promotes women to shareholder ahead of the national average.
“We will confidently defend the firm against these claims as we remain steadfast in our commitment to equal opportunity for all,” the statement read.
At this point, of course, the plaintiffs’ allegations are just that. But when a firm that defends others against discrimination suits finds itself facing one — whether or not the claims are meritorious — Sidebar finds that ironic.