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Jones Day Says ‘Black Box’ Doesn’t Support Unequal Pay Claim

July 30, 2019, 3:16 PM

Jones Day says the “black box” system it allegedly uses for setting lawyers’ pay isn’t a specific job practice that would support claims that the law firm engages in sex-based pay and other discrimination against female lawyers.

A proposed class claim charging that women, especially pregnant women and mothers, are treated worse than male lawyers as a consequence of the firm’s employment policies and culture lacks the detail needed to satisfy federal pleading standards, Jones Day told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia July 29. The amended complaint fails to identity the type of facially neutral employment practice needed to prove “disparate impact” discrimination, the firm said.

The lawsuit refers to a “black box” system allegedly used by Jones Day to set lawyer pay. But that’s not a specific job practice, the firm said. Rather, “it is merely a label for an entire, overarching compensation system,” the filing said.

The women’s amended complaint also doesn’t detail the unequal pay consequences female attorneys have experienced as a result of the alleged “black box” system, the firm said. Sex-based data relating to promotions to partnership is also missing, it said.

That could be because over the past two years, 48% of new U.S. partners were women, 70% of whom had taken family leave at some point in their Jones Day tenure with the firm, the firm said.

The complaint’s equal pay claims don’t provide examples of male lawyers who were paid more than female lawyers for performing virtually identical work, the firm said. Generally alleging men were paid more than women isn’t enough under the Equal Pay Act and its California and New York law counterparts, especially given the “varied tasks lawyers perform,” Jones Day said.

Jones Day’s motion follows its July 26 answer to the women’s lawsuit. The motion also seeks dismissal of:

  • the class-wide request for injunctive relief, because none of the seven named plaintiffs is still working for Jones Day and therefore wouldn’t benefit from the firm being required to stop any of the allegedly discriminatory employment practices;
  • retaliation claims by three named plaintiffs for failure to plead a protected activity;
  • claims by six women under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, because none of them ever worked for Jones Day in D.C. and the business decisions affecting their employment weren’t made there; and
  • all claims by named plaintiff Meredith Williams and claims by named plaintiff Katrina Henderson under New York City’s job bias law.

Sanford Heisler Sharp represents the female attorneys. Jones Day is representing itself.

The case is Tolton v. Jones Day, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-00945, motion for partial judgment on pleadings 7/29/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com