Ogletree PAGA Lawsuit

Case Type: Gender Discrimination/PAGA

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

Attorneys from Sanford Heisler Sharp late yesterday filed a gender discrimination suit against Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, PC, (“Ogletree”) and five of its current and/or former male leaders in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego.

The plaintiff is former Ogletree equity partner Tracy Warren, who filed the representative action on behalf of herself and other similarly situated current or former female attorneys employed in California at the storied defense-side labor and employment firm. Ms. Warren filed the action under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA).

Ms. Warren brought additional claims of gender discrimination against Ogletree in conjunction with plaintiff Dawn Knepper’s federal class and collective action now pending in the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California. Ms. Warren opted in to that federal action against Ogletree and alleged claims of gender discrimination against Ogletree as part of a proposed Second Amended Complaint in June of 2018.

According to the PAGA complaint filed yesterday, Ms. Warren filed her PAGA notice with California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency on July 3, 2018. Yesterday’s state Complaint alleges only Ms. Warren’s legal claims under PAGA, which are not included in the proposed Second Amended Complaint pending in the Central District.

“Ogletree purports to be committed to diversity and fostering inclusion as an integral part of its professional development efforts,” said David Sanford. “Our filings allege that Ogletree’s male leadership systematically overlooks, devalues, or undermines its female attorneys. As Ogletree’s managing shareholder explained, ‘we are not real good at practicing what we preach.’”

Ms. Warren joined Ogletree in mid-2013 as the firm’s only female equity shareholder in San Diego. At Ogletree, she conducted workplace investigations and counseled businesses on sexual harassment, discrimination, and fraud for clients, as well as conducted numerous local and national webinars and presentations on employment topics.

The Complaint details allegations of Ogletree’s history of gender discrimination, as well as the firm’s pattern of willfully ignoring a female attorney’s complaints about their treatment by male leaders and its reliance on in-house counsel to conduct investigations of these complaints. The Complaint documents Ogletree’s underpayment of female shareholders relative to male shareholders with substantially similar levels of experience, as well as the firm’s discrimination against Ms. Warren in business development opportunities and credit allocations. The Complaint also alleges that Ogletree retaliated against Ms. Warren for her complaints of rampant gender discrimination and her outspoken advocacy for female parity and pay equity at the firm, culminating in the firm’s January 2018 termination of her.

PAGA gives any employee in California aggrieved by an employer’s violation of the state Labor Code the right to file an action on behalf of other current and former employees for civil penalties established by Section 2698 and other sections.

Yesterday’s Complaint details the following willful, knowing and intentional PAGA violations by Ogletree, which are characterized as continuing and ongoing: deprivation of equal pay for females; retaliation for disclosure of wages and discussions regarding wages, inquiries regarding others’ wages, and efforts to aid other employees in exercising their rights under the California Equal Pay Act; retaliation for disclosing wages and terms and conditions of employment; retaliation for disclosing information (or because Ogletree and its agents believed aggrieved employees disclosed or may have disclosed such information) to a government or law enforcement agency; retaliation for complaining about unpaid wages and exercising rights under PAGA; and the unlawful underpayment of wages to departing female employees.

The Complaint seeks recovery of penalties and unpaid wages under PAGA, as well as attorneys’ fees and other such relief deemed proper by the court.

Ms. Warren and members of the class are represented in the matter by a Sanford Heisler Sharp team led by its Chairman and co-founder David Sanford in the firm’s Washington, DC, office, partner Edward Chapin and Counsel Jill Sanford in its San Diego office, Danielle Fuschetti in San Francisco, Leigh Anne St. Charles in Nashville, and local counsel Aashish Desai of the Desai Law Firm, P.C.

Defendants in the matter include Ogletree’s current Managing Shareholder Charles Matthew Keen, in its Raleigh office; Kim Franklin Ebert, the firm’s immediate past Managing Shareholder, in its Indianapolis office; Ronald Chapman, a Dallas-based former member of the firm’s Board of Directors from January 2012 through 2018, shortly after the initial case was filed; Joseph Clees, a Phoenix-based former member of its Board of Directors from January 2017 through the initial filing of the complaint in 2018; and Joseph Beachboard, a current Co-Managing Director of Ogletree who oversees its California offices. These defendants are also included in the proposed Second Amended Complaint currently pending in the federal class and collective action against Ogletree, led by plaintiff Dawn Knepper.