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White Man's Burden

Vivia Chen

March 9, 2011

WhitemanXHow can anyone not have a little sympathy for a middle-aged lawyer with a family to support whose career is careening? And who can blame the guy for suing his firm, if he sees that as the only recourse to address the injustices he's suffered?

That essentially describes Raymond Carey, who's suing Foley & Lardner for breach of contract, discrimination, and other related charges (see The Am Law Daily). A labor and employment lawyer, Carey is a 57-year-old Caucasian man who founded Foley & Lardner's Detroit office in 2000. (Neither Foley nor Carey responded to ALD's request for comment.)

In his 63-page complaint (he's representing himself), Carey repeatedly claims that Foley reneged on its promise to make him a full partner, didn't give him client credit for matters he brought in, disrupted his client relationships, and generally gave him the shaft.

Standard stuff for partnership disputes, except for this: He claims that from 2005 through 2010 he was compensated at "a lower rate than similarly situated female, non-Caucasian, and younger partners who were no more than equally but actually less qualified [than he was]."

Boy, he must be really in the gutter, if he's paid even less than women and minorities! (It's reassuring, though, that he included "younger partners" in the mix.)

I know this might be the standard kitchen sink approach to framing a discrimination suit, but I find the reverse discrimination claim distracting and gratuitous. Moreover, he doesn't really provide any meaningful details about how those other groups got better treatment. (To be fair, his other allegations are also sketchy. For instance, he claims that he was induced to open Foley's Detroit office because Foley had put his biography on its Web site, even though he had not agreed to leave his old firm.)

To me, Carey's complaint suggests something else: the bitterness of white, middle-aged men at this juncture in the legal profession, where being a partner is no longer a safe harbor. And if you are floundering, why not point the finger at everyone else--throwing in women and minorities as convenient scapegoats? I mean, aren't they getting preferential treatment these days?

"He's essentially saying that I got to this firm, and found there's discrimination against middle-aged white men," says Texas employment lawyer Michael Maslanka, who is not involved in the case. "Except the firm is probably run by middle-aged white men!"

There's a lot of "pent-up frustration by men in their forties to fifties who feel they've been displaced in corporate America as clients keep pushing for diversity," says Orrick employment partner Patricia Gillette. But Gillette adds, "You don't see too many reverse discrimination claims because men are generally too macho to file them."

But maybe that's the old macho model. So will displaced white men start pushing more of these claims? Or is this case an aberration?

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

 Photo: Fotolia



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The legal profession is VERY racist. White men are the preferred commodity because the career is all about acting. Very little skill is involved, and the most important thing is "looking" the part so as to pursuade others--white or non-white. Police officers are usually white for the same reason--they represent power and authority in our society. So, white men will never ben endangered in the legal profession. Until today, they are the ultimate winners in this lucrative, wishy-washy profession.

As a coach of women and minorities in law firms, I have a different perspective about this blog post.

It is a rare occasion that minorities and women have sued a law firm for discrimination. This type of action leads to being shunned in the industry. After years of being challenged inside of law firms, usually minorities who are laid off or fired, simply lick their wounds and move on to the next challenge. Further, it is a rare occasion that corporations or law firms fire rainmakers and profit generators, so I wonder about Mr. Carey's results?

There are plenty of recent surveys that document the fact that minorities are taking a significant hit in law firm employment during these tough economic times. Usually they are some of the last hired, therefore the first to go.

I'm not surprised that a lawyer would sue to achieve the desired results AND I would offer another perspective...

The world is quickly becoming more flat and the global economy is growing. Another way to save oneself is to embrace the diversity inside your firms by mentoring and supporting those who look the same and different. Rather than protecting your piece of the pie, you could actually mentor, share your knowledge and grow a bigger pie. The "old boy network" has been successfully growing white male lawyers for years. How about extending the club membership to others?

In the short run, the economy may make this difficult, but in the long run, cultural competence is a viable answer. Although law firms are a highly autonomous environment, we should be wondering how long this model of success will last. More and more, team work, cross selling and diverse teams are required to get/keep the business.

Corporate clients are increasingly diverse, therefore being aware and open to strengthening relationships with a mulit-cultural population is critical. Don't go away mad, stay, embrace inclusion and figure out how to grow a bigger pie for everyone.

This is a pretty racist sexist article.

Hmm. Question: why would Foley terminate a parter who's making money? They wouldn't! Duh.

Case has nothing to do with gender discrimination, and everything to do with a guy whose career fell apart and needs someone to blame. Boo hoo. Welcome to private practice.

Typical of Vivia Chen to use this suit as a pretense for her favorite hobby, male-bashing. Women and minorities can make these claims, but when a man does it, Vivia use it as "proof" of her own cherished anti-male stereotypes? C'mon!

I think his claim has more than a kernal of truth to it. Consider this: The legal press is always full of stories about how corporate counsel are pushing law firms to meet certain diversity goals,etc. If a firm is being pushed to have more women and minorities, then who is considered the most expendable in the cynical calculus of profits? Answer: white males.

And even if the reality doesn't necessarily pan out that way, certainly the perception is there. How many law firms post, on their recruiting page, that "white males are particularly encouraged to apply"? How many corporations are pushing their outside counsel about how many white males they have hired?

And, I believe any pent up frustration by white males about this situation is only exacerbated by the fact that others are being given preferential treatment on the basis of sex or race, when the need for such treatment no longer exists. Gone are the days when the female lawyer was a rarity. Most law school classes have an equal mix of sexes, and two women sit on the US Supreme Court. And considering that not only is the President an African American, but also former president of the Harvard Law Review, its hard to get too worked up about minority penetration into the legal field.

Moreover, given all the negativity about legal careers - difficulty in finding jobs; long hours; burn out; etc., its not too hard to believe that many of the best and brightest of women and minorities are seeking careers elsewhere, like in medicine.

What's good for the gander is good for the goose!

Assuming the facts are true - and there is no doubt that firms like Foley are pressured to go out of their way to hire women and non-Caucaisians - kudos to Mr. Carey. May his lawsuit be followed by 100,000 more.

I'm not suprised at yet another attempt to turn the world on it's head.

It is reassuring to know that white men such as Raymond Carey are now doing nothing more -- and nothing less -- than the classic DDMGMs (downtrodden disadvantaged minority group members).

They are using "distracting and gratuitous" discrimination claims in their complaints, the "standard kitchen sink approach to framing a discrimination suit." This not only provides another basis to negotiate a settlement, but it releases lots of pent-up anger upon a convenient recipient, whether or not such recipient is a deserving target.

And, given that the DDMGMs have demonstrated the efficacy of such an approach, why shouldn't the Angry Middle-Aged White Males also be able to use it?

And those who insist that we should not be able to avail ourselves of this standard tool in the armamentarium, while applauding the DDMGMs who do use this tool -- they are practicing discrimination!!

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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