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Women Are Finally Suing Their Law Firms for Gender Discrimination

The firm of Chadbourn and Parke is run by an 'all-male dictatorship' that denies equal pay to its female partners and shuts women out of leadership, according to a class action lawsuit brought against the firm -- by some of the firm's own leaders.

Lead plaintiff Kerrie Campbell joined Chadbourne as a partner less than two years ago, but alleges that she was systematically denied leadership roles and compensated much less than her male counterparts, according to the New York Times. Now she's suing for $100 million, on behalf of herself and 26 current and former women partners. And she's not alone. Though it's rare for attorneys to sue their own firm, at least two other lawyers have brought suit against their firms this year, alleging systematic gender discrimination.

Who's Calling the Shots?

Campbell's suit claims that she was underpaid by $2.7 million while at the firm, and that women lawyers at Chadbourne regularly received lower pay and smaller bonuses than men there. One of the main sources of that disparity, the suit alleges, was Chadbourne's management committee -- that's the "all-male dictatorship" which Campbell's complaint says "makes its decisions regarding firm partners in a black box, generally without input or scrutiny from the partnership at large."

Those decisions, Campbell claims, undervalue women, and the secrecy behind them creates a "wall of silence" that "reinforces the firm's glass ceiling by shielding the management committee from meaningful oversight."

A Common Complaint, but a Rare Lawsuit

Though suing your firm is uncommon, Campbell isn't the only lawyer alleging that her law firm discriminated against her because of her gender. As Crain's notes, at least two other female lawyers have sued major firms this year. In January, LeClairRyan was sued for gender discrimination by a former attorney, Michele Burke Craddock. And this July, Traci Ribeiro sued Sedgwick, saying she was repeatedly denied an equity partnership because of her gender.

The sentiment behind those lawsuits seems to be fairly widespread. Forty-six percent of women lawyers believe that they are paid less than their male counterparts, according to a survey of Chicago-area attorneys commissioned by Crain's and the Chicago Network this year.

They're not wrong. A 2014 survey by recruiting firm Major Lindsey & Africa found that female partners were paid 47 percent less than male partners, making an average of $531,000 to a man's $779,000.

"The question really is, what's responsible for these gross disparities in the profession," Campbell's attorney, David Sanford, told Law.com. "We believe gender discrimination is responsible."

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