Thursday, October 11

Law Firm Seeks to Clear its Name by Suing Partner, Airing Laundry.

Another day, another law firm debacle to report. First it was Sidley Austin's ostentatious settlement earlier in the week. Now Ballard Spahr's Baltimore office has apparently brought itself into court for discrimination.

From the Daily Intellegencer (via

After attempting to resolve internally alleged issues of inequitable pay and the piecemeal removal of her practice over the course of a decade, Jane Ennis Sheehan had confidentially presented on May 9 gender discrimination claims and a demand letter to Ballard Spahr Chairman Arthur Makadon through her counsel, according to court documents from both sides.

Sheehan claimed that another partner who was supposed to be her equal in a two-person team took her practice from her over the course of several years and called it his own. That partner was ultimately paid more for doing the same work, she said in her demand letter.

She also claimed in the letter that she was retaliated against for bringing these claims to light internally, eventually resulting in her being taken from a percentage or equity partner to an income partner.

We know what you're thinking - another equity-to-income post? Yawn.

Come on, we wouldn't do that to you. This is not big-firm economics. This is straight up she-said/it/they/he-said, David versus Goliath-style mud-wading. But Goliath is supposed to stand there and get pelted, not throw his own stones. For an explanation, click the jump.

After a conference call to work out the details didn't produce, the firm sued Sheehan asking for a declaratory judgment that they did not discriminate, before she ever went to the EEOC on the discrimination claim. Again from the article:
"I wanted to keep it as discreet as possible. I never expected a suit by the firm," Sheehan said in an interview. "I expected an opportunity to sit down and discuss my concerns with the firm.

[Sheehan's lawyer] said Ballard Spahr did "everything wrong" when it came to dealing with an internal complaint, whether or not it agreed with the allegations. She said Sheehan wanted to keep the claims as quiet as possible, but the firm ultimately "advertised the suit" to the partners.

"It's interesting that I could raise the specter of discrimination claims and find myself the defendant," Sheehan said.

And elsewhere:
"I kept hoping incorrectly that things would straighten out," Sheehan said earlier.

Sheehan said she is still working for the betterment of the partnership through marketing the firm's practices and the Baltimore office, which now has 41 attorneys.
Yeah, we're pretty sure when the firm refused to pay us the measely $675k and reinstate our partner status, we'd get the itch to walk, but to each her own we guess.

Maybe there's an explanation in here somewhere -

In its response to Sheehan's preliminary objections in the declaratory judgment action, Ballard Spahr said Sheehan had explained her poor performance and low billable hours through a 2004 letter to the allocation committee. She said the reason for the performance was because of personal problems that affected her work life, according to Ballard Spahr's response filing.

Sheehan said in an interview that the firm encourages partners to write letters to explain poor performance. While everything in her letter was accurate, Sheehan said, she did not bring up some of the professional reasons that her billable hours were low because she "did not want to antagonize the partnership," she said she thought she would suffer ramifications she wasn't ready to handle.

"Antagonize the partnership?" Oooh-kay. CE is not setting the odds for this one.

One more quote from the article:
In 2004, Sheehan earned $358,681 for her share of the partnership profits. She said in court documents that that was 82.3 percent of Casey's pay for that year, which would mean he earned almost $436,000.
So we're not losing that much sleep over Ms. Sheehan's situation. Though CE thinks getting your hard-earned business snatched from under you is pretty crappy regardless of your gender or year end take-home.

Either way - we can't figure out what Ballard was thinking with this. They just hung the dirty laundry and expected eveyone to walk by without smelling it. I mean, when no one's calling you a sexist, don't ask the court to say you're not a sexist. That's all we're saying.