By Nate Raymond
Oct 23 (Reuters) - Two secretaries who recently were laid
off by Paul Hastings in Los Angeles have filed discrimination
suits against the firm, amid signs that law firms nationwide are
taking a closer look at expenses.
The secretaries, who were let go in August, filed separate
lawsuits against the firm in Los Angeles Superior Court,
claiming that age played a role in their terminations.
"The real reason plaintiff was 'laid off' was because she
was an older worker earning and costing the defendant law firm
too much," one of the complaints said.
Each secretary is seeking more than $1 million in damages.
Allan Whitescarver, a spokesman for Paul Hastings, said the
two secretaries, Anne Hollingsworth and Shawnda Foster, were
among three in the firm's Los Angeles office who were let go in
August as part of an elimination of positions.
Whitescarver said the firm has been reducing its secretarial
pool over the last few years, following investments in
technology, among other factors, that allowed it to operate more
efficiently. He declined to quantify how many secretarial
positions have been eliminated in recent years.
"We never make decisions to eliminate positions with any
discriminatory conduct," Whitescarver said.
Since the beginning of the recession, law firms have
consistently targeted non-lawyer staff as a way to cut costs. In
2011, the ratio of non-legal staff to lawyers at big law firms
fell to 0.9, from 1.03 in 2007, according to Citi Private Bank.
And expenses have continued to rise in spite of such
cutbacks. A survey by Wells Fargo Wealth Management conducted in
July found that general expenses at law firms had grown 6.5
percent for the first half of the year, while revenues were up
just 3 percent. Profits for the same time period were down 0.7
"Given the tough environment caused by tepid demand growth,
severe pricing pressure and nagging excess capacity, I would not
be surprised to see both lawyer and non-lawyer headcount to come
down," said Dan DiPietro, chairman of Citi Private Bank's Law
The lawsuits against Paul Hastings were filed separately but
by the same lawyer, Patricio Barrera. He did not respond to a
call seeking comment.
In her complaint, Hollingsworth, 66, said she had worked at
Paul Hastings for 25 years before being fired. She also said the
secretaries who weren't fired were younger.
Shawnda Foster, 49, in her separate lawsuit, repeated many
of Hollingsworth's age-related complaints.
But she also accused Paul Hastings of racial discrimination.
Foster, who said she was the only black secretary on her floor
for many years, said she was selected to be laid off while a
less-qualified white secretary was retained.
The cases are Hollingsworth v. Paul Hastings and Foster v.
Paul Hastings, Los Angeles Superior Court, Nos. BC493962 and
For Hollingsworth and Foster: Patricio Barrera, Barrera &
For Paul Hastings: Not immediately known.
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