When is a BigLaw partner not considered an "employee" under anti-discrimination laws? When he can't prove he was a "partner" in name only, a New York justice held in a recent ruling.
New York Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman dismissed an age-discrimination case brought by a former partner at Holland & Knight, a BigLaw firm in Manhattan with more than 1,000 employees.
Former partner John Weir sued H&K in 2007, accusing the firm of age discrimination, The Wall Street Journal reports. Weir, a "Class B partner" at H&K, was let go from the firm at age 55.
Despite his BigLaw "partner" title, Weir's suit claimed he was technically an "employee" for purposes of local and state anti-discrimination laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that in large partnerships where a few top partners wield most of the power, lower-ranking partners may be considered "employees" under certain circumstances.
Weir claimed he was never a managing partner, and was often told what to do by higher-ranking partners, Business Insurance reports. Weir alleged his firing was payback for an age-discrimination complaint he filed with the EEOC as he was being pressured to quit.
But Friedman found Weir failed to prove he was as powerless a BigLaw partner as his lawsuit claimed. As a Class B partner at H&K, Weir could vote for the firm's managing partner and directors committee, Friedman wrote, according to Business Insurance.
Weir was also entitled to a share of H&K's profits, and could not be expelled from the firm without a 70% vote of its directors, Friedman found.
Friedman also said Weir's claims failed a six-part test used by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if a shareholder is an employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Called the Clackamas test, it has been applied to non-ADA situations as well.
- Judge Rules Ex-BigLaw Partner Wasn't an Employee Entitled to Sue for Bias (ABA Journal)
- New York City Employment Law Lawyer (FindLaw)
- Employment Discrimination: Overview (FindLaw)
- Age Discrimination Laws: How Old is Old Enough? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)