Just how reliable are those "best places to work" lists? Judging from what I'm hearing, the answer is: not very. Actually, some offer stronger views. Says one lawyer about the newly released Yale Law Women's list of top 10 family-friendly firms for 2012:
Why are Yale women focusing on THIS issue? Why aren’t they recognizing firms that have women in leadership, women in rainmaking positions, women in power? And the firms they have cited here, ours included, are not exactly examples of “women in power–friendly firms.”
Several readers expressed outrage that Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo was named a top family-friendly firm by both Yale Law Women and Working Mother magazine. The reason? The firm has been sued by female associates in two well-publicized cases for sexual discrimination. (In one case, Dawn Gallina won $520,000 on her retaliation claim; she also won her appeal for punitive damages; the case settled in 2005.)
Ironically, plaintiff Kamee Verdrager, whose case is still pending, won an important battle against Mintz Levin just a day before Yale announced its list. (Verdrager was cleared of unethical conduct for accessing documents from the firm's computer system that support her sexual harassment claim. Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly has a fascinating account of the "smoking-gun" voicemail that Verdrager discovered in which the firm's diversity chair warned the firm's head about harassment problems.)
Now a solo practitioner, Verdrager says she's shocked that her former firm keeps getting accolades for being family-friendly. "It just amazes me. . . . Neither Yale nor Working Mother contacted me about my case." She adds, "Dawn Gallina and I are not the only ones who have complained [about discrimination]. There are others."
But Marvin Lim, who led the Yale top ten law firm project this year, says his group did due diligence and that it was aware of the discrimination claims against Mintz Levin. "We got feedback from alumni to help us gauge [the impact of] those cases," he says. "We stand by the list," though he adds that the criteria for the list is limited to certain information—like availability and utilization of part-time, child care, and family leave provisions.
Jennifer Rubin, the chair of Mintz Levin's diversity committee, wouldn't comment on the Verdrager suit. But she says, "I see claims every day—many which have no merit." Now a partner in the firm's employment law group, Rubin says that she herself worked part-time before becoming a partner: "I came into the firm with young children, and the firm accommodated me." The firm, she adds, has always had an inclusive culture: "It was started 75 years ago by guys who couldn't get a job because they were Jewish."
But Verdrager says Mintz Levin's culture was precisely the problem. She says gender discrimination was systemic at the firm: "I don't think they take [harassment] problems seriously. They deny, deny, then attack employees who dare to complain."
So what's the takeaway here? "One can have great policies and still have discrimination," says Cynthia Calvert, a former senior official at the Project for Attorney Retention and the Center for WorkLife Law. It's one thing to say, “Here are the firms with the best work/life balance programs,” but quite another to say, "These are the best 'family-friendly' firms."
In other words, it's the spirit rather than the letter of the policies that should matter.
What do you think of these types of "best" firms lists? Do they award the right firms? Or those with the best public relations?
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