LOS ANGELES (CN) – A former partner at Irell & Manella claims she was paid less than male partners at the firm because she took maternity leave, and was sexually harassed by “the firm’s highest income producing partner.”
In her Superior Court complaint, Juliette Youngblood says she was fired after the firm demanded she get “special conflict waivers” from her clients to allow the firm to accept and litigate cases against her clients while they were remained clients of the firm.
Irell & Manella describes itself on its website as one of the 200 largest law firms in the country.
Youngblood says she began working for the firm as an associate attorney in 1992, and in 1997 was named a partner. Her business production “placed her in the top 15 percent of firm partners in terms of individually generated receivables for years, including 2006-2009,” according to her complaint.)
Calling herself “a rainmaker and tremendous asset to the firm,” Youngblood says she took 3-month maternity leaves in 1997, 2000 and 2002.
She says the firm claims to have a maternity leave policy, under which three-month maternity leave does not affect the mother’s career, but that Irell & Manella “punished plaintiff for taking maternity leaves consistent with defendant’s policy.”
Youngblood claims Irell & Manella “credits similarly situated males who take approved leaves of absence, such as sabbaticals or paternity leaves, 160 hours per month.”
But Youngblood says she was given zero hours credit for her maternity leaves, and the firm used her “lost hours during maternity leaves as a purported bases [sic] for reducing her pay relative to males performing similar or even less work.”
Youngblood says she consistently met or exceeded the firm’s full-time billing expectations from 2003 to 2008, but “was not credited for her actual billing because defendant makes compensation decisions based on a six-year look-back and the cumulative impact of reducing plaintiff’s hours in 1997, 2000, and 2002 by 500 hours each year ‘docked’ her annual average billing amounts in 2003-2008 based on plaintiff’s earlier maternity leaves.”
She says the firm’s “similarly situated males” were not “docked by this system” since they were credited with 160 hours for sabbatical or paternity leaves.
Youngblood says Morgan Chu, the firm’s former managing partner, approached her at a happy hour held at the firm, and that Chu, “who was visibly under the influence of alcohol,” made inappropriate comments to her, including comments about her appearance, “comments about objects entering plaintiff’s body, and references to body parts in a context of sexual innuendo,” according to the complaint.
After she objected to Chu’s advances, “Chu’s treatment of plaintiff took a negative turn,” and within weeks, Chu falsely accused Youngblood of lying to him and the firm about a client’s payments on a prior bill,” the complaint states.
She says Chu, the head of Irell & Manella’s litigation department, who “regularly generates tens of millions of dollars of business each year and is by far the firm’s highest income producer,” pressured the firm to demand that Youngblood “obtain special conflict waivers from her long-time most valued firm clients.”
The waivers would have required Youngblood’s “firm clients to agree that Irell & Manella could accept and litigate cases directly against plaintiff’s clients while the clients were active firm clients,” the complaint states.
Youngblood says she refused to seeks such waivers, claiming “the Rules of Professional Conduct impose a duty of loyalty and a duty of zealous advocacy on lawyers to protect their clients’ interests,” and that the waivers “would be directly adverse to these clients’ interests.”
Youngblood says she was fired Aug. 31, 2009, after she refused to get the “special conflict waivers” signed – a demand that “was not made of similarly situated males or similarly situated attorneys at the firm who had not objected or opposed sexual harassment or gender based unequal pay.”
Youngblood seeks compensatory and general damages for violations of the California Labor Code, the California Equal Pay Act, wrongful constructive termination in violation of public policy, and breach of contract.
She is represented by Pamela McKibbin Teren and Lauren Miller of Teren Law Group.