Chadbourne partner alleging gender bias attempts to block vote to expel her from firm

Kerrie-Campbell

A week after Chadbourne & Parke announced it would hold a partnership vote on whether to expel Washington DC-based partner Kerrie Campbell (pictured), who is leading a gender bias suit against the firm, Campbell and her lawyers urged a federal judge to block the vote from taking place.

On Wednesday, Campbell’s legal team, led by Sanford Heisler name partner David Sanford, filed an emergency motion and other papers in Manhattan federal court, arguing that the partner vote is part of a broader effort to punish Campbell for bringing the litigation and discouraging potential gender discrimination claims from other woman partners.

“The purpose and effect … was not only to demean and humiliate Ms Campbell, but also to convey a direct and undisguised threat to the firm’s other female partners: anyone who joins this action places her career and reputation in jeopardy,” Campbell’s lawyers wrote in a brief.

In response to Wednesday’s court filings, a spokesman for Chadbourne said the expulsion vote was “entirely foreseeable” and that Campbell was “well aware” it would be coming.

“Plaintiffs’ effort to seek to stop an orderly expulsion proceeding, which conforms to the partnership agreement that Ms Campbell herself signed, would have its own chilling effect on the right of partnerships to manage their own businesses and enforce their own contracts,” he said. The firm has tapped Proskauer Rose partners Kathleen McKenna and Evandro Gigante to defend it in the case.

Chadbourne also criticised Campbell and her lawyers for mounting an “obvious public relations offensive”, meant to draw attention to the suit.

“This motion itself is another grandstanding measure by Ms Campbell and her counsel, clearly written more for the press coverage they hope to receive than out of any real notion that the remedies they seek are justifiable or appropriate,” the firm spokesman said.

First filed in August, Campbell’s suit claims that men call the shots at Chadbourne and that female partners receive lower pay and fewer leadership opportunities than their male counterparts. Two other former partners have since joined Campbell’s complaint – one-time products liability chairwoman Mary Yelenick, now of counsel at Chadbourne after retiring from the partnership in December, and former Kiev office managing partner Jaroslawa Zelinsky Johnson. The women have sought certification to continue the suit as a collective action.

The firm issued a statement on 5 April, announcing that a partnership vote would take place on whether to expel Campbell, who joined Chadbourne in 2014 from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. That vote is scheduled to take place on 19 April.

Chadbourne’s statement alleged that Campbell had questionable personal and legal judgment, and made “serious and disruptive failures in practice management”. The statement also noted that last year Chadbourne’s management committee asked Campbell to leave the firm voluntarily. Chadbourne went on to say that “she decided not to do so and, instead, chose to pursue baseless claims in the cynical pursuit of a big and undeserved payday”.

In the court papers filed on Wednesday, Campbell and her lawyers allege that Chadbourne took an unusual step by alerting the press about the impending expulsion vote before notifying Campbell and other partners. Campbell wrote in a declaration that she only learned about the vote after receiving a voicemail from a journalist at The American Lawyer, seeking comment on Chadbourne’s public announcement.

She also alleged that Chadbourne has stopped paying her. In her declaration, she stated that she didn’t receive her scheduled direct deposit in early April, and that the firm’s finance department hasn’t provided her with any explanation.

“It is my understanding that the firm does not intend to make any further salary payments to me,” Campbell wrote.

Campbell has previously maintained that after complaining within the firm about alleged gender bias, her compensation dropped to about $9,000 per month – less than a first-year associate’s salary. Wednesday’s filings asked US District Judge J. Paul Oetken to suspend the partnership vote on Campbell’s fate at the firm. It also urged the judge to issue a corrective notice to all potential members of the collective lawsuit, specifying to female partners that they can’t be retaliated against for taking part in the case.

Chadbourne disputes Campbell’s compensation claims and has called the gender bias case against it meritless.