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Greenberg Traurig Faces $200M Bias Claim

MANHATTAN (CN) - Female attorneys demand $200 million from Greenberg Traurig in a federal class action, claiming it engages in "systematic, firm-wide discriminatory treatment of its female shareholders on the basis of their gender."

Francine Friedman Griesing, a former Greenberg Traurig attorney, sued the firm on behalf of a class of current and former female shareholders.

"Shareholder" is Greenberg Traurig's equivalent to "partner" at other law firms, according to the complaint.

Griesing, who was a low-ranking shareholder at the firm's Philadelphia office from April 2007 to January 2010, claims Greenberg Traurig fired her in retaliation for complaints of discriminatory employment practices.

She says the firm "pays women less, promotes them at lower rates than men and virtually freezes them out from high-level managerial positions," and that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agrees.

"In a June 28, 2012 determination, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ('EEOC') found 'reasonable cause to believe' that GT discriminated against its women attorneys in violation of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act by compensating women - including plaintiff Griesing - less than similarly situated male counterparts and treating Ms. Griesing and class members less favorably than similarly situated male shareholders," the complaint states.

"Such a finding is extremely rare. For example, in 2011, the EEOC found reasonable cause in only 3.8 percent of all investigations, including both individual and class charges.

"Moreover, the EEOC also found that GT retaliated against Ms. Griesing because she raised concerns about GT's discrimination."

Griesing says that Greenberg Traurig stands out even though discrimination against women is pervasive at large law firms, which, according to recent national surveys, compensate male partners on average $237,000 more per year than female partners, and deny female attorneys client-origination credit and other opportunities.

"Yet even in a field dominated by archaic gender stereotypes, GT stands out for its culture of discrimination against female attorneys," the complaint states. "While the firm advertises a commitment to equal opportunity for female attorneys, the reality is far different.

"The firm ranked 193 out of 221 top law firms in the number of female equity partners, according to the National Law Journal, 'Women in the Equity Partnership: How Firms Fare.' Indeed, women represent only 9.62 percent of GT's equity shareholders, well below the national average of 15 percent for AMLaw 200 and National Law Journal 250 firms.

"GT's Philadelphia office, where plaintiff Griesing worked, exemplifies the firm's broad-based and engrained sexism. As the EEOC recognized, male shareholders in GT's Philadelphia office receive (a) more compensation than similarly situated female shareholders; (b) greater business-generating opportunities and internal referrals from other male shareholders; and (c) higher titles than similarly situated female shareholders. GT, in short, pays women less, promotes them at lower rates than men and virtually freezes them out from high-level managerial positions.

"GT's gender disparities are neither coincidental nor limited to its Philadelphia office. One man, CEO Richard Rosenbaum ('CEO Rosenbaum'), makes all promotion and compensation decisions for each and every GT shareholder nationwide. CEO Rosenbaum consults with only four other high-ranking male GT shareholders on shareholder compensation: the executive chairman, the president, the chairman of the board and a regional operating shareholder. Together, these five men make up GT's compensation committee, a centralized brotherhood controlling who gets paid what at all times.

"Greenberg Traurig has never had a female CEO, and, upon information and belief, has never had a female member of the compensation committee.


"In addition, members of the compensation committee openly express animus toward female shareholders. For example, CEO Rosenbaum told Ms. Griesing that female shareholders in the Philadelphia office were 'worthless,' and that they are allowed to stay at the firm only because regional operating shareholder Michel Lehr ('Mr. Lehr' or 'Regional Operating Shareholder Lehr') 'liked to keep them around.' Mr. Lehr, who ran several offices (including Philadelphia) and served on the compensation committee, told female attorneys that only 'tall, male and Jewish' GT lawyers generate business.

"At the same time, Mr. Lehr has admitted that there is 'no formula' for compensation and that it is entirely subjective, commenting that female shareholders are 'lucky' to get paid as much as they do. CEO Rosenbaum has echoed this admission, characterizing GT's compensation decisions as 'somewhat of an art form.'

"GT conceals its arbitrary and discriminatory decision-making by using a 'closed' compensation system where decisions are made in a black box in order to shield from review, critique or appeal both its methodology (if any) and final decisions."

Griesing has more than 30 years of experience in business counseling, complex litigation, alternate dispute resolution and government affairs, according to the complaint.

She says she "performed exceptionally well" at Greenberg Traurig and was praised by Lehr, who told her she had "hit the ball out of the park" in generating business.

Nevertheless, she claims, Greenberg Traurig assigned her and other female attorneys to lower shareholder levels than similar or lesser-qualified male attorneys.

"For example, when the firm hired Ms. Griesing, it assigned her to the 300 level - the lowest possible - while the firm assigned similarly or less qualified males to the 500 level," the complaint states. "In fact, when Ms. Griesing joined GT, all but one of the female shareholders in the Pennsylvania office were assigned to the 300 level, even though many had more experience and better qualifications than several of the male shareholders assigned to the 500 level. Upon information and belief, the only female shareholder in the Philadelphia office at the 500 level at that time was involved in a long-term, intimate relationship with a highly placed, senior male shareholder.

"By assigning women to lower levels and delaying their promotion, the firm denies its female shareholders compensation and opportunities to which they are otherwise entitled."

Greenberg Traurig has three shareholder levels: 300 level, 500 level and 1,000 level. The firm assigns incoming attorneys to the 300 or 500 level, and requires them to spend at least 3 years at the 500 level before being eligible for the 1,000 level. The 1,000-level shareholders are the most highly paid and refer business to one another, increasing business generation and compensation for each other, according to the complaint.

Griesing says Greenberg Traurig has no objective criteria for assigning or promoting shareholders, and makes excuses for promoting male shareholders over better-qualified female counterparts.

"Accordingly, GT senior management can and does exploit the system to offer opportunities to male shareholders who are often less qualified than their female counterparts," Griesing says. "Even male shareholders who (a) are irresponsible, often absent and perform poorly due to various personal problems or (b) have substantially less professional, leadership or business development experience and lower financial contributions are assigned by GT into higher levels or are promoted over female shareholders like Ms. Griesing with exemplary records, significantly more experience and superior contributions."

Griesing claims the firm pays female shareholders less than it pays their male peers and denies them opportunities to increase their origination and timekeeper revenue.

She claims the firm "commonly and openly makes compensation decisions based on archaic assumptions that men were responsible for financially supporting a family," and unfairly evaluates women's performance because of their parenting duties.

She says Greenberg Traurig has allowed male shareholders to form a "boys' club" which steers business their way through internal referrals, and excludes female shareholders from client pitches and associated origination and timekeeper revenue.

And she claims the firm allocates resources and staff to male shareholders at the expense of female shareholders.

Griesing claims that even though she generated more than $4 million in revenue for the firm, Greenberg Traurig underpaid her compared to male shareholders, and failed to increase her bonus according to her performance.

She says the only women shareholders treated fairly at Greenberg Traurig are those in intimate relationships with firm management.

"GT has one exception to its general practice of denying women professional development opportunities and compensating women less than men," the complaint states. "GT prioritizes, pays and promotes women who have intimate relationships with firm leaders or who acquiesce to sexualized stereotypes."

After Griesing complained about the firm's discriminatory treatment, she says, Greenberg Traurig denied her equal access to client work and origination opportunities, refused to pay her on time, interfered with her relationship with other shareholders and associates, and threatened to sue her for defamation if she pursued her claims against the firm.

She says the firm fired her in January 2010.

Griesing filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC after CEO Rosenbaum told her that "he would not investigate her allegations unless she agreed to be 'happy' at the firm," according to the complaint.

She says the EEOC found "reasonable cause to believe" that the firm retaliated against her after she complained about discrimination.

She claims she suffered significant emotional distress due to Greenberg Traurig's discrimination and retaliation.

Griesing seeks class certification, more than $200 million in back pay, front pay and compensatory and punitive damages for discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination, and wants the unlawful practices stopped.

She is represented by Jeremy Heisler with Sanford Heisler.

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