By Casey Sullivan
Dec 3 (Reuters) - A former Greenberg Traurig shareholder on
Monday filed a proposed $200 million gender discrimination class
action against the Florida firm, claiming it underpays female
lawyers and is governed by an "old boys club."
Philadelphia lawyer Francine Friedman Griesing filed her
complaint in New York federal court claiming the 1,700-lawyer
firm violated the Equal Pay Act, a federal law aimed at
abolishing wage disparity based on sex.
In the 52-page complaint, Griesing said she was seeking to
represent 215 other current and former female Greenberg Traurig
shareholders, to reform the firm's policies and to have a jury
hear the case.
Greenberg Traurig disputed the allegations and filed a
petition in Philadelphia federal court on Monday to block a jury
trial and compel confidential arbitration.
Griesing's action is a "financially motivated public stunt,"
said Hillarie Bass, a Greenberg Traurig shareholder with whom
Griesing said she had once discussed the alleged discrimination.
Greenberg Traurig has "an exemplary record of fairness and
advancement irrespective of gender, race or creed," and its
compensation system is based on merit, said Bass in a statement.
According to Griesing's complaint, Greenberg Traurig's
all-male compensation committee, headed by CEO Richard
Rosenbaum, makes "compensation decisions based on archaic
assumptions that men were responsible for financially supporting
Rosenbaum did not respond to a request for comment.
When Griesing received a bonus that she said she thought was
too small in 2009, Philadelphia operating shareholder Michael
Lehr, a member of the compensation committee, told her that the
men had families to support and that she did not need the money,
according to the complaint.
Griesing said in the lawsuit that Lehr admitted Greenberg
Traurig underpaid her by more than $200,000 since joining in
Lehr did not respond to a request for comment.
Griesing also pointed to inappropriate comments made by
Greenberg Traurig leaders and said in the complaint that "GT
prioritizes, pays and promotes women who have intimate
relationships with firm leaders or who acquiesce to sexualized
Griesing described in the lawsuit a firm social event where
she was approached by an unnamed member of Greenberg Traurig's
compensation committee who asked if she was "the fifty-year-old
Philadelphia shareholder who looked like she was thirty." The
shareholder then told Griesing he would take better care of her
if she moved to California where he had more managerial
responsibility, according to the lawsuit.
In 2009, Griesing filed a complaint with the Federal Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal job
discrimination laws. In June, the EEOC found that it had
"reasonable cause to believe" that Greenberg Traurig
discriminated against its female lawyers by underpaying and
"treating them less favorably" than men, according to the
A spokeswoman for the EEOC said the commission does not make
public any part of the administrative process, "including copies
of the charge or any administrative determination."
Bass said that "Griesing's complaint paints a false picture
of the work environment at Greenberg Traurig and the facts
surrounding her initial claim to the EEOC."
Women have long struggled for a more equal role in law
firms. According to a survey by the Minority Corporate Counsel
Association released earlier this year, male partners earn
$237,000 more per year than female partners. A 2012 study by the
American Bar Association showed that just under half of law firm
associates are women, while only 15 percent are equity partners.
"It's not only Greenberg Traurig, to be sure; it's a
suspended problem in the legal industry," said David Sanford, a
lawyer at Sanford Heisler who is representing the plaintiff.
Sanford said Greenberg Traurig stood out because it was rare
for the EEOC to find reasonable cause for wrongdoing in its
investigations into discrimination. In 2011, according to the
lawsuit, the EEOC found reasonable cause of impropriety in only
3.8 percent of the investigations it undertook.
The case is: Francine Friedman Griesing, On Behalf of
Herself and Others Similarly Situated v. Greenberg Traurig, U.S.
Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 12-CV-8734
For the plaintiff: Jeremy Heisler, David Sanford, Janette
Wipper, Jim Sullivan of Sanford Heisler.
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