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Chadbourne's Female Partners: Don't Call Us Victims

The Careerist

September 13, 2016

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The gender discrimination suit against Chadbourne & Park is getting hotter. Now it looks like the other female partners at the firm are ganging up on Kerrie Campbell, the woman who's suing the firm. I hate to say it but it's beginning to look a bit like an episode of Mean Girls.

Last month, Chadbourne partner Campbell filed a $100 million class action suit against the firm, alleging that female lawyers are compensated less than their male colleagues even when women generate more business, and that the firm retaliates against women who raise the issue. In response, the firm disputed Campbell's claims, issuing a statement that her complaint was "riddled with falsehoods."

So far, pretty standard public relations stuff in a litigation.

Now the latest salvo: Fourteen of the firm's 16 female partners just sent a letter to Campbell's lawyer, David Sanford (click here for my interview with him), with this message: Bug off. Essentially, the 14 signers say that want nothing to do with the class action. (Campbell is one of the two lawyers who didn't sign; the other partner is traveling on a charitable trip in the "developing world," according to a source close to the firm.)

But the letter is more than a "Thanks-but-no-thanks" message. It aims to convey the idea that the female partners at Chadbourne are doing fine and need no help. In fact, it turns the tables on Campbell by suggesting that it's her lawyer who's the chauvinist. The first paragraph of the letter states:

Your complaint claims that it must speak for us because we are too afraid to speak for ourselves. That is not how we see ourselves and certainly not how any of us believes our clients and colleagues perceive us.

The women write that they were not contacted by Sanford before they were swept into the class—a tact they claim "is no less patronizing and patriarchal than what you accuse our male colleagues of having done." The letter then goes on to say that the complaint Sanford wrote "makes a group of very accomplished, assertive and intelligent professional women look like they are victims unable to hold their own with their male colleagues."

I don't know the protocol for contacting potential class members but it seems strange that Campbell's lawyer would be called "patronizing and patriarchal" for doing his job.

Which brings me to back to the girl fight thing. Though the letter is addressed to Sanford, it's hard to read it as anything but a rebuke of Campbell's claims. It reminds me of the long list of women who rose to Roger Ailes' defense when he was accused of sexual harassment and retaliation by Gretchen Carlson. Funny thing, though, when the evidence started to mount against Ailes, some of his defenders went quiet, and one very vocal supporter (Greta Van Susteren) later accused Fox of failing to control Ailes.

If the aim of the letter is to make Campbell's claims less credible, I'm not sure it's doing the trick. Though it's possible that the 14 signers feel they have been treated fairly by the firm, it's also possible that peer pressure led some to sign the letter.

"There wasn't one person who started the letter. It was started in a small group, then leaked to the Wall Street Journal," says the source that's close to Chadbourne.

Meanwhile, Sanford says, "I've been contacted by a number of Chadbourne partners and associates." Current ones? "I cannot speak about the particulars of people who contacted us," Sanford tells me.

Everyone is being coy. You just know this will get juicier.

vchen@alm.com

Photo: Mean Girls

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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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