By Kate S. Gold
Traci Ribeiro’s class action lawsuit against her employer Sedgwick LLP is the latest in a string of lawsuits in the pay equity battle, which has been highlighted in this year’s Presidential election and through the recent EEOC claim filed by the U.S. womens’ soccer team. Ribeiro is a non equity partner who claims that, as one of the firm’s three highest revenue generating partners, she has been denied equity partnership and was subjected to retaliation for filing an EEOC complaint claiming gender discrimination. She seeks to represent a class of past and present female attorneys in partnership track positions at the firm; her complaint alleges violations of the California Fair Pay Act, Illinois Fair Pay Act, and Federal Equal Pay, as well as gender discrimination and retaliation under the California FEHA, Illinois Human Rights Act, and Title VII. Ribeiro claims, in addition to routinely paying women lawyers less than their male counterparts, Sedgwick has denied women equity partnership and membership on its Executive Committee (until 2016, when Ribeiro made a formal complaint about gender discrimination). She asserts discrimination under both a disparate treatment and disparate impact theory.
Among the more remarkable allegations in her complaint is that female associates were paid $40,000-$50,000 less annually than their male counterparts, and that despite her own high revenue generation, she was denied promotion to equity partnership three years in a row and, in 2015, an equity partner promotion was given to a male with less than 10% of Ribeiro’s revenues. But there is clearly a lot we can’t tell from reading the complaint: as to the gender discrimination claims, what is the firm’s criteria and process for determining compensation and partnership and how is it biased in favor of men? As to the fair pay claims, will the firm rely on the established defenses to pay disparities, such as a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or upon a bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training, or experience? Employers and employment lawyers will no doubt be following this case as the topic of pay equity continues to hold a firm place in the public spotlight. That is, unless the case ends up in a private arbitration. Ribeiro is also seeking declaratory relief that the dispute is not subject to the parties’ arbitration agreement (and is also attempting to stay Sedgwick’s arbitration demand which also seeks a declaration that the dispute should be compelled to arbitration). For more information on compliance with Title VII, the Equal Pay Act and various state laws regarding gender discrimination and fair pay, contact Kate Gold or Lynne Anderson.