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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Covington Burling Nixes Claims of Racial Bias

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge dismissed claims that the law firm Covington Burling retaliated against a black contract attorney who complained about allegedly discriminatory practices.

Yolanda Young sued the firm in 2009, claiming that white attorneys received better training than black attorneys, that one white staff attorney read aloud racial slurs and their definitions from a Wikipedia page, and that a partner with the firm told a story in which he analogized a pet monkey to a black staff attorney.

The complaint claimed that Covington partners and associates communicated with white staff attorneys more often than they did with black staff attorneys, and that the white partners took more of an interest cultivating the careers of white hires.

She also claimed that a white staff attorney screamed at a black staff attorney for complaining about cold air blowing from a fan, "relating her heritage to her temperature discomfort," and that white attorneys often referred to black attorneys as "those people."

Citing a lack of statistical evidence, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton rejected each of Young's claims, including disparate treatment of black attorneys, failure to promote and wrongful termination.

"The plaintiff's failure to promote claim fails because the record does not show that the plaintiff ever applied for, or was qualified for, a promotion to a non-staff attorney position," Walton wrote.

Covington Burling fired Young for performing second to last out of 65 staff attorneys, according to the decision, which opens with the fact that Young graduated with a C/C+ average from Georgetown University Law Center.

In dismissing claims of a hostile work environment and harassment, Walton pointed out that a Covington partner immediately disciplined the attorney whom Young had reported for using racial slurs.

"Here, because the record is clear that the plaintiff brought only one instance of the alleged racial harassment to the attention of the defendant, and because the defendant reacted immediately to remedy the harassment and prevent future harassment, even if the plaintiff was indeed subjected to a work environment in which racial harassment was severe and pervasive, the defendant cannot be held liable," Walton wrote.

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