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Greenberg Traurig faces $200m class action for gender discrimination

Complaint follows EEOC finding 'reasonable cause’ to support claim of classwide gender disparities in pay 

5 December 2012

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Francine F. Griesing, a former partner at Greenberg Traurig, and a class of female partners, are suing the top-10 US law firm for gender discrimination in pay.

The $200m (£124m) suit follows the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) finding in June 2012 that there is “reasonable cause” to support classwide claims of gender discrimination in compensation.

The EEOC also concluded that there is reasonable cause to support claims that women are treated less favourably in the terms and conditions of their employment and to support an allegation of retaliation, according to the lawsuit.

Greenberg Traurig, which has about 1,700 lawyers and $1.24 billion in annual revenues, is one of the largest law firms in the United States.

“Greenberg Traurig’s closed compensation system and ‘good old boy’ culture allows gender discrimination to thrive and flourish,” said David Sanford, chairman of Sanford Heisler, who is representing the plaintiffs.

“The EEOC’s rare finding of classwide discrimination at the firm confirms that it is time to shine a light on Greenberg Traurig’s damaging practices, level the playing field and facilitate merit-based advancement for women at the firm.”

Sanford Heisler says that Griesing was an “exceptional performer” at Greenberg Traurig but was “discriminatorily denied” the compensation, promotions, support and rewards enjoyed by the firm’s “less productive” and “less competent” male shareholders. It says that she was ultimately terminated for her continued gender discrimination complaints to Richard Rosenbaum, the firm’s CEO, in 2009.

The complaint filed yesterday claims that Greenberg Traurig routinely discriminates against current and potential female shareholders in hiring, promotion and compensation.

It says that all of the firm’s compensation and other employment decisions nationwide are made by CEO Richard Rosenbaum who, during a conversation about Griesing’s compensation, reportedly derided the female partners in the firm’s Philadelphia office as “worthless”.

Sanford Heisler claims that Greenberg Traurig, in turn, compensated its female shareholders as though they were, in fact, worth less. The plaintiffs’ firm says the head of Greenberg Traurig’s women’s initiative informed Griesing that women at the firm have to wait years to “catch up” with their male counterparts as a result of the firm’s discriminatory practices. 

In addition, the plaintiffs’ firm says Greenberg Traurig’s male management claimed that certain male shareholders “needed the money” more than female shareholders because the men had families to support, and responded to Griesing’s concerns about unfair practices by telling her that she was “lucky to have a job” and that it was “unseemly” to complain about money.

“The legal profession has been, ironically, a bastion of gender discrimination,” commented Katherine Kimpel, managing partner of Sanford Heisler’s DC office.

“While women make up 45 per cent of law firm associates, only 15 per cent of equity partners generally and less than 10 per cent of equity partners at Greenberg Traurig are women.

“This case not only will force Greenberg Traurig to clean up its house but also should encourage other large law firms to turn a critical eye to the way they treat their own female attorneys. The time for women attorneys to work twice as hard for half the reward is long past.”

The class comprises hundreds of female Greenberg Traurig shareholders who have been or will be employed by the firm from 2007 until the date of the judgment. 

Griesing is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, nominal, liquidated and punitive damages and attorneys fees, costs and expenses to redress Greenberg Traurig’s “pervasive and discriminatory policies”, practices and procedures on behalf of herself and the class, and brings individual claims for the firm’s retaliation up to and including its termination of her employment.

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