Ogletree Gender Discrimination Lawsuit

Case Type: Gender Discrimination

Company: Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. (“Ogletree”), one of the nation’s largest law firms specializing in defending employers against employment discrimination lawsuits, has itself been sued for practicing gender discrimination against its female shareholders. Today, in United States District Court for the Northern District of California, a female shareholder of Ogletree, Dawn Knepper, filed a complaint and accused the firm of systematically underpaying female shareholders, manipulating origination credits to favor men, and denying women equal opportunities for advancement and promotion.

Plaintiff Knepper is represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp with David Sanford as lead counsel.

The complaint asserts that Ogletree uses a number of tactics to shortchange female shareholders in pay and promotions. The firm manipulates allocation of origination credits by unfairly attributing such credits to male shareholders, even when women at the firm are the ones who bring in the client. Further, male-originating attorneys are permitted to designate which shareholders can share origination credit on a matter and typically favor their male counterparts.

Additionally, Ogletree disproportionately saddles female shareholders with administrative duties which are less valued at the firm and this results in women being denied equal pay and promotions. These administrative or “housekeeping” duties take substantial amounts of billable time from female shareholders while male shareholders are largely freed from such tasks.

When female shareholders attract clients to the firm, origination credit is often diverted from the women and allocated to the men. The firm’s discriminatory credit allocation system makes it difficult for Ogletree’s female lawyers to meet the firm’s criteria for origination credits, and this in turn makes it difficult for female shareholders to advance within the firm. Even when women successfully originate new clients, Ogletree simply ignores the numbers and persists in paying male shareholders higher compensation than more deserving female shareholders.

According to the complaint, a top Ogletree male shareholder acknowledged that the Firm publicly touts its commitment to diversity and inclusion but that “We don’t practice what we preach.”

David Sanford, chairman of Sanford Heisler Sharp and lead counsel for plaintiffs, said, “It is ironic that a law firm like Ogletree, which boasts of its diversity initiatives and prides itself on effectively counseling employers to avoid lawsuits, finds itself charged with practices that epitomize gender discrimination in the workplace and at law firms in particular. The legal profession lags behind corporate America when it comes to equal opportunities for women. Ogletree’s practices are emblematic of how far we still have to travel to make the law firm experience fair for both male and female lawyers.”

The complaint asserts causes of action under Title VII, the federal and California Equal Pay Acts, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Unfair Competition Law, and the California Private Attorney Generals Act. Plaintiff sues on behalf of a class of approximately 100 non-equity female shareholders in California and nationwide.

Plaintiff seeks $100 million in damages for underpayment at Ogletree, $100 million for compensatory damages, and $100 million for punitive damages. Additionally, the complaint asks for systemic reform at Ogletree to equalize pay and promotion opportunities for men and women at the firm.

Jill Sanford, also Class Counsel in this gender discrimination matter, said, “We are at a cultural tipping point where women in the workplace will no longer tolerate unfair treatment, whether it comes in the form of sexual harassment or, as seems true at Ogletree, discriminatory pay and promotion practices that disadvantage women.”