Big Law Hit With A Gender, Pregnancy, And Maternity Discrimination Class Action

This week, three female associates at Morrison & Foerster (“MoFo”) filed a nine-count gender, pregnancy, and maternity (“sex-plus”) discrimination class and collective action against their employer in the Northern District of California. The putative class includes all female attorneys at MoFo and other national and California subclasses of female attorneys who have been or will be employed by MoFo and who have been or will be pregnant, have children, and/or take maternity leave.

 The Complaint describes a purportedly male-dominated hierarchy and “old boys’ club” environment that is said to create and perpetuate systematic discrimination against female attorneys who are pregnant or have children. According to the Complaint, despite MoFo’s “family-friendly façade,” female attorneys who are pregnant or have children are subjected to lower pay, delayed advancement, and less substantive work.

The Plaintiffs claim that after returning from maternity leave their salaries did not advance in lockstep with their peers even though the firm initially increased their billing rates. According to the Complaint, a “standard operating procedure” of “hold[ing] back women who take maternity leave, regardless of their performance before or after leave” leads to the “dead end of the mommy track” as returning female attorneys fall behind their male counterparts in pay and opportunity and are perceived as less committed to and less capable at their jobs.

The Complaint also alleges that, after returning from maternity leave, female employees face higher standards and are provided less meaningful work and more limited access to partners and clients. Plaintiffs allege that this practice prevents female attorneys from progressing and results in the underrepresentation of women in senior and leadership positions.

The Complaint is broad-based and seeks compensatory and punitive damages upwards of $100M for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Equal Pay Act, and similar California statutes (the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Family Rights Act, the California Equal Pay Act, and the Unfair Competition Law).

This class/collective action is just one of several gender-based discrimination lawsuits filed by Sanford Heisler Sharp against Big Law, including Greenberg Traurig, Chadbourne & Parke, Sedgwick, Ogletree Deakins, and Proskauer Rose. The cases against Chadbourne & Parke, Greenberg Traurig, and Sedgwick recently settled. The cases against Ogletree and Proskauer are ongoing.

We will continue to monitor this case and provide updates as the case progresses.