(CN) – Six female attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the largest law firm in the nation, Jones Day, claiming pervasive gender discrimination and sexual harassment.
In the $200 million class action filed on behalf of the woman by attorney Deborah Marcuse of the Baltimore firm Sanford Heisler Sharp, the women claim working at Jones Day is like working at a frat house.
“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,” the women say in the complaint. “For a female associate to succeed at Jones Day, she must at least tolerate the stereotyped expectations of the firm’s male powerbrokers.”
Plaintiffs include Nilab Rhayar Tolton and Andrea Mazingo, who recently worked as associates in Jones Day’s Irvine California office – Tolton for eight years, Mazingo for five. Four other women sued as Jane Doe.
Their complaint paints a picture of a workplace where women are not valued for their professional accolades but are instead treated as sex objects, often forced to endure comments by male colleagues about their looks, relationship statuses and attire. At a firm event held at a partner’s house, the women claim a male associate who pushed a female associate wearing a white dress into a pool was applauded and high-fived by male leadership.
When female attorneys at Jones Day become pregnant or have children, the women say, it often ends their careers. Tolton says she was ordered to leave the firm a few months after returning from her second maternity leave.
The women also say female attorneys are punished for taking time off for health reasons. Mazingo claims she was verbally abused by a male partner after she took a weekend off for health issues caused by the firm’s sexist environment, and subsequently was forced to leave the firm.
Meanwhile, they say, the men at Jones Day are favored, paid more than their female colleagues and receive promotions more quickly. Female attorneys generally receive inadequate work, mentorship, and support, and those who seek out mentors often face sexual harassment, according to the complaint.
Additionally, because the firm uses a “black box” system that prevents colleagues from knowing how much others make, partner Stephen Brogan can systematically deny female associates equal pay without being held accountable, the women say. Brogan is based in the firm’s Washington office.
Sanford Heisler attorney Russell Kornblith says the women hope to bring transparency to the system.
“Jones Day proudly touts that it is not like its peer firms, because it does not pay its associates in lockstep,” Kornblith said in a statement Wednesday. “However, plaintiffs allege that this ‘black box’ compensation system masks gender discrimination in pay.”
Jane Doe 4 says she was paid about $400,000 less per year than a junior male associate at Jones Day, whose compensation became publicly available after he took a government position.
Jones Day represented President Donald Trump in his 2016 campaign and more than a dozen of its former attorneys now work for Trump’s administration. The firm employs more than 2,500 lawyers across the world.
A request for comment sent through the firm’s website was not returned by press time.
The women seek class certification, a tolling of the statute of limitations where applicable, a court declaration that the employment practices laid out in the complaint violate the law, an injunction against Jones Day and its current practices, and a court order to start treating and paying female employees equitably.
They also seek $50 million in lost pay, $50 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages.