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Suit by female Ogletree shareholder alleges gender discrimination

January 16, 2018

Employment defense firm Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart P.C., which has a significant presence in Indianapolis, is accused of discriminating against female shareholders in a federal lawsuit seeking $300 million in damages on behalf of 100 non-equity women shareholders at the firm.

Dawn Knepper, an Ogletree shareholder in California, sued seeking a class action Friday in federal court in San Francisco. The suit alleges the firm systematically underpaid female shareholders, manipulated origination credits to favor men, and denied women equal opportunities for advancement and promotion. The suit seeks $100 million in damages for underpayment, and $100 million each in compensatory and punitive damages.

Ogletree rejected the allegations. “We will confidently defend the firm against these claims as we remain steadfast in our commitment to equal opportunity for all,” the firm said in a statement.

“Equal opportunity has been a core principle of Ogletree Deakins since the firm’s founding, and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind — gender or otherwise. We take the allegations filed by one California non-equity shareholder very seriously. However, the decision-making process that governs our compensation system is both fair and equitable. In fact, we are proud of our ‘open compensation’ system under which all shareholders in the firm know what every other shareholder earns — and the factors that support those determinations. Under this system, full-time female non-equity shareholders in California have made more on average than their male counterparts in each of the last four years. And the same is true if you compare female and male equity shareholders in California.”

The suit alleges Ogletree unfairly attributes origination credits to male shareholders even when women at the firm bring in the client. The complaint also alleges that Ogletree disproportionately assigns administrative duties to female shareholders, resulting in women being denied equal pay and promotions.

In announcing the suit, Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP chairman David Sanford said, “It is ironic that a law firm like Ogletree, which boasts of its diversity initiatives and prides itself on effectively counseling employers to avoid lawsuits, finds itself charged with practices that epitomize gender discrimination in the workplace and at law firms in particular. The legal profession lags behind corporate America when it comes to equal opportunities for women. Ogletree’s practices are emblematic of how far we still have to travel to make the law firm experience fair for both male and female lawyers.”

But Ogletree said this isn’t the case. “Women comprise more than half of the people in our firm and, over the last four years, the majority of attorneys promoted to shareholder in the firm have been women (8 of the 11 new shareholders just promoted on January 1 are women),” Ogletree’s statement said. “Further, women are among our most successful lawyers, serving in leadership positions as members of our board of directors and compensation committee, office managing shareholders and practice group chairs. Of the four elected members of the compensation committee, two are women. All four serve alongside the firm’s managing shareholder.”

Atlanta-based Ogletree has more than 800 lawyers in 50 offices throughout the United States and in Canada, Europe and Mexico. The firm is ranked No. 77 on the 2017 AmLaw 100 list of largest law firms in the United States.

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