When you think of wage discrimination, you may think of secretaries, teachers, or other traditionally female roles. But a recent lawsuit by female lawyer Kerrie L. Campbell against the law firm Chadbourne & Parke shows that wage discrimination can happen at any level, and in any industry.
In this blog post, I will review the law relating to wage discrimination based on gender. I will discuss the Campbell lawsuit against Chadbourne & Parke and explain how gender discrimination can happen even at the partner or management level.
In 2015, women working full time jobs in the U.S.A. earned an average of 80% of the wages paid to men. This gap has shrunk considerably from the 60% they were earning in 1960, but a distinct wage gap still exists. When this happens within a particular business, the underpaid female employees may have the grounds for a lawsuit.
Gender discrimination is illegal under state and federal law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from considering sex or gender when it sets the pay or benefits of its employees. So if a company routinely pays its female staff less than its male employees, those women workers could have a claim before the EEOC or in federal court.
Similarly, the Equal Pay Act requires that men and women working in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work. If two people's job content (what they do) is substantially similar, their pay, overtime options, and benefits should be equivalent as well. Where inequality is found, the company is not allowed to lower one employee's wages to match the other.
One big difference between wage discrimination claims under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act is the process to get relief. In most cases, gender discrimination claims must go through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before they head to federal court. The EEOC will assign an investigator and negotiate with the employee and employer to try to resolve the matter without a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides that there is evidence of discrimination it can issue a "right to sue" letter or take the case to court itself. All of this can take time, while an employee is stuck in an underpaying job. Under the Equal Pay Act, underpaid employees can take their cases directly to court, without going through the EEOC first.
On August 31, 2016, trial attorney Kerrie L. Campbell filed a wage discrimination complaint against Chadbourne & Parke, LLP, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The complaint claims that Campbell, a seasoned trial lawyer with a good reputation and years of experience, was being paid among the bottom ranks of male partners at the firm. The complaint describes her achievements at the firm, noting that she had generated revenue "consistent with the Firm's top performing male Partners." But her compensation was two to three times less than her male counterparts.
According to the complaint, hiring, firing, and wage decisions at Chadbourne & Parke are made by a 5-man (yes, all males) Management Committee. As outlined in the complaint, Campbell noticed that they tended to assign fewer compensation points (which translate into salary raises and bonuses) to women than men who generate similar revenue. The complaint alleges that when she brought her concerns to management, she was told her success in 2014 was a "fluke" and her litigation support was cut. According to Campbell's complaint, the Management Committee decided in 2015 that she did not "fit" with the "strategic direction" of the firm. She alleges that in order to get her to leave quickly, the committee slashed her pay to less than a first-year associate.
This isn't the first time a female attorney has raised wage discrimination claims against a top law firm. Recently, Traci M. Ribeiro sued Sedgwick LLP, because she alleged that her wages "did not match [her] contributions to the firm."
Women now make up 45% of law firm associates. But according to the American Bar Association, only 18% of Big Law partners are women, and they earn 80% of what their male counterparts earn. It will take courageous, high-profile women, like Kerrie Campbell, to combat this discriminatory status quo. By filing wage discrimination lawsuits, professional women (and men) can show that they deserve equal pay for equal work on every rung of the ladder to success.
Whether you are earning minimum wage or have the title Partner, wage discrimination can still happen to you. If you believe you are being compensated unfairly based on your sex, our gender discrimination attorneys at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, can help. We will meet with you and plan a course through negotiations with your employer, the EEOC, or in court, to make sure you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and get the process started to a fair wage.