SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A former Jones Day partner sued the country’s largest law firm Tuesday, claiming she was fired for speaking up about a pay disparity for women and misogynist behavior that allegedly included requiring female partners to “disrobe” in front of clients at a spa day event.
Wendy Moore, hired as a partner in 2013, said in a complaint filed in San Francisco County Superior Court that until recently she was lauded for her successes, including her strength in recruiting new associates.
But last year she said it became clear to her that men were getting more opportunities and more pay than women. Moore said finding answers to her questions about the gaps was made nearly impossible by a “black box” compensation structure controlled by male partners and the exclusive culture they created.
Moore filed the lawsuit under California’s Private Attorneys General Act, that allows employees to claim civil penalties for themselves and other employees for business violations of the state’s labor laws.
According to the complaint, Jones Day operates as a kind of fraternity. Networking at the firm revolves around sporting events and alcohol, it says.
Early on at Jones Day, Moore said she was required to help organize and participate in “Women’s Spa Day.” The event was held for male partners who invited their female clients to a spa, where “Moore and other female partners were expected to disrobe in front of the clients and to serve as ‘hostesses.'”
Moore also claims in the complaint that women are forced to rely on men for advancement.
“The Firm’s fraternity culture demands allegiance to the men who run the Firm. And women who complain about this system suffer swift retaliation,” the complaint states.
Moore said that “female attorneys are treated as second-class citizens,” adding that “They are not, nor can they be, full members in the fraternity.”
Male leaders at the firm would “often make sexist comments” and “rate the attractiveness” of female staff and clients, according to the complaint.
“Jones Day’s ‘boys’ club’ culture functions as a patronage system, in which the success of female attorneys depends on their value to influential male partners,” the complaint states.
The suit alleges that the gender distribution of partners in the firm’s hierarchy reflects this dynamic: “While the numbers of female associates matches those of male associates, male partners outnumber female partners three to one.”
Moore claims that when she was hired, only nine of approximately 50 partners were women, and that by 2017 that number decreased to five.
Her complaint says that the male-dominated culture directly affects compensation decisions and that “a small number of influential male partners determine” compensation at the firm.
Male partners assign women fewer high billing cases, and put them on non-billable projects, the complaint alleges. The result is an apparently poorer performance by women in generating billable hours, which shows up on objective performance reviews that go toward pay determinations.
She said she complained, but was told to “trust the system” and that “the money will come.”
Her objections to the firm’s culture mounted through 2017. She voiced discomfort with the “Firm’s ‘boys’ club’ culture, such as trips to strip clubs” that included Moore’s boss, who told her in response that he could never trust or work with her again.
As the partner in charge of hiring in Northern California, she said she relayed to the firm that women at law schools objected to the firm’s support for Donald Trump. She also said she was told to tone down her criticism, and was cut out of work that constituted a good part of her billable hours.
In December 2017, Moore said she formally complained about harassment and retaliation and continued to pressure Jones Day partners about discriminatory conduct.
As a result she said she was excluded from an all-partner meeting and told to look for a new job.
Moore says firm guidelines still insist that pay at Jones Day is confidential, even between partners.
Representatives for Jones Day did not respond to requests for comment.
“Jones Day’s message in terminating Wendy could not be clearer. Ms. Moore was punished soon after she summoned the courage to speak out against gender discrimination and demand the same pay that her male peers received,” said Moore’s attorney David Sanford of Sanford Heisler Sharp in a public statement.