Alleged “Fraternity Culture” at One Top Law Firm Blamed for Equal Pay Act Violations

Young woman in business attire standing with arms crossed in a business environment

Do you have to be “one of the boys” to get the best projects, and the best pay, at your work? A lawsuit against one of the top law firms in the country says the firm’s “fraternity culture” led to gender discrimination and Equal Pay Act violations. And the plaintiffs are asking for a big payout.

In this blog post I will review a lawsuit against Jones Day for Equal Pay Act violations. I will explain how the firm’s alleged “fraternity culture” was blamed for unequal pay to women associates and resulted in gender discrimination and illegal treatment based on their pregnancy and maternity.

Complaint Calls Out Jones Day for Gender Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination, and Equal Pay Violations

On April 3, 2019, Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP filed a complaint against one of the country’s biggest law firms: Jones Day. The complaint outlined the experiences of 6 women, Nilab Tolton, Andrea Mazingo, and four who remained anonymous trying to get ahead in Jones Day’s competitive work environment. According to the complaint:

“In Jones Day’s fraternity culture, male brotherhood is affirmed and strengthened by comments and conduct that derogate women, leaving female associates to choose between capitulation and exclusion.”

The complaint describes a corporate culture that gave more opportunities to male partners and associates, while exposing women to sexual harassment, gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and unequal pay.

Gender Discrimination and Equal Pay Violations at Jones Day

The core of the complaint centers around Jones Day’s fraternity culture, which the plaintiffs’ attorneys say gave male associates an advantage in career advancement. It claims:

“Jones Day’s fraternity culture presents female attorneys at Jones Day with an unpalatable choice: participate in a culture that is at best inhospitable to women and at worst openly misogynistic or forego any hope of success at the Firm. For a female associate to succeed at Jones Day, she must at least tolerate the stereotyped expectations of the Firm’s male powerbrokers. To challenge these expectations by word or deed, even in settings ostensibly provided for ‘honest’ feedback, is career suicide.”

Within this environment, male associates are partnered with mentoring senior partners, who guide them toward promotion and advancement. Women, however receive inadequate access to high-impact work, mentorship, or support. Advancement decisions at the firm are also disturbingly subjective and susceptible to gender stereotyping and bias. All partnership and pay decisions are made by a single Managing Partner, Steve Brogman, based on “consensus statements” about the employee’s work over the past period. These reports are notoriously cherry picked to justify Brogman’s decisions. Nor are staff permitted to keep copies of the “consensus statement” after their review meeting.

Pregnancy Discrimination Against Partners and Associates

When women fail to advance within this fraternity culture, the complaint says that it is often because of gender stereotypes and assumptions about mothers’ commitment to the firm.

“The tireless, childless female associate is inadequately ‘fun’ and excessively ‘intense’; the high-performing associate mother of small children is ‘deadline-challenged,’ or lacks ‘commitment.’ ”

Plaintiff Nilab Tolton said that when she asked about the firm’s maternity leave policy she was immediately seen as a problem child, despite her credentials as a Harvard-educated attorney. When she did become pregnant, she returned to find her salary frozen, negative reviews on her record, and less access to work opportunities. After her second child’s birth she was simply told to find a new job.

Sexual Harassment Among Top Law Firm Employees

Jones Day’s fraternity culture also manifests in overt instances of sexual harassment and abuse, according to the complaint. When they seek out a male patron to aide their career, they are often met with sexual harassment and abuse from those male partners who they are relying on to provide them work.

The complaint also alleged a number of sexual harassment violations by Jones Day employees including:

  • Demands for female attorneys to sing and dance
  • Requiring a female associate to climb over male associates to leave a table at a restaurant
  • Pushing a female associate into a swimming pool during a party at a partner’s home
  • Sexualized comments about female employees’ clothes, high heels, or smiles

The fraternity culture is so prominent that Jones Day’s male attorneys mock complaints over gender discrimination that happens at the firm, making jibes like “add it to the file” when they make sexist comments or jokes.

Class Action Seeks to Change Fraternity Culture at Jones Day

Tolton, Mazingo, and the other plaintiffs aren’t just looking for a payout for themselves. They have filed the complaint as a class action, saying that all the women in the workplace at the law firm has been affected by gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and equal pay violations. The six representative plaintiffs want the court to find that Jones Day must:

  • Compensate men and women equally for substantially similar work under the Equal Pay Act.
  • Implement training and programs to eliminate the hostile work environment under the gender discrimination portions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
  • Promote and compensate female attorneys in a non-discriminatory way.
  • Pay money damages for lost pay, benefits, penalties, and other financial losses.
  • Pay punitive damages to all members of the class.
  • Pay fines, waiting time penalties, and civil penalties under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • Pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees, costs, and interest

All together, the amount of money damages requested is $2,000,000. The injunctive relief and process of changing their policies and systems could cost the famous law firm far more.

When a fraternity culture turns a workplace into a locker room, it is often the women who take the brunt of damage. Whether in the form of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, or equal pay violations, employers in male-dominated industries like law can put up obstacles that women must work hard to overcome.

At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we aren’t afraid to take on big employers with fraternity cultures and deep histories of harassment and discrimination. We can help you find allies at your office, coordinate your claims, and file the right complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and in federal court make the most of your sexual harassment or gender discrimination claims. Whether you have faced sexual harassment, gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, or equal pay violations, our employment discrimination lawyers will review your case and help you prepare a strategy to get the relief you need. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation and get your case started.

Free Case Evaluation

Speak with our team, for free, about your legal situation.

New York Office 24 Union Square East , PH | New York, NY 10003
Los Angeles Office 10100 Santa Monica Blvd. , Suite 300 | Los Angeles, CA 90067
Philadelphia Office 1500 Market Street , 12th Floor, East Tower | Philadelphia, PA 19102
Manhasset Office 36 Maple Place | Manhasset, NY 11030
Upstate New York Office 324 Schultz Hill Road | Rhinebeck, NY 12572
Telephone: (212) 353-8700 | Facsimile: (212) 353-1708 |