The American Lawyer, January 28, 2013 – Discrimination or Ineptitude—or Both?

Posted January 28th, 2013.

Let me say that I’m a bit stunned that Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr has been hit with a $5 million gender and age discrimination lawsuit by a former lawyer. That’s because I’ve been covering women in the legal profession for years now, and Wilmer has been one of the more enlightened firms for women.

So what’s going on? Have we all been hoodwinked into thinking Wilmer is a swell place for women? Or is the lawsuit just a fluke?

But here’s the really noteworthy part: She got axed while she was in the middle of a four-and-a-half-month adoption leave.

I know it’s too early in the game to say whether Wilmer acted improperly. The facts need to be fully aired. And I’m sure there will be all sorts of parsing about the kind of reviews that Levinson got. But even giving the firm all the benefit of the doubt, you have to wonder how it could have fired someone in the middle of a maternity/adoption leave. Just as a public relations matter, it looks awful.

But back to my original point: Wilmer’s admirable record on promoting women and how that might color the case. Sanford, for one, doesn’t sound too impressed: “If that’s true, good for them. If this was a class case, those [favorable] stats would be relevant. But this is an individual claim with individual circumstances and players. It doesn’t say that it’s a terrible firm and that the high-level people are scoundrels.” He adds, “The timing [of her firing] was at a minimum curious . . .Wilmer has a lot of explaining to do.”

This article originally appeared in The American Lawyer.

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