08:43, May 06 49 0 abajournal.com

2019-05-06 08:43:04
BigLaw firm wins partial dismissal of 2 plaintiffs’ claims in gender bias suit

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A federal magistrate judge has tossed some claims by two former Morrison & Foerster associates who sued the law firm for alleged gender bias in a would-be class action.

The May 1 decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley allows the women a chance to replead their claims, Bloomberg Law reports.

The associates were among seven “Jane Doe” plaintiffs who claimed “mommy track” bias by Morrison & Foerster. The suit had alleged that when a female lawyer at the firm is pregnant or has children, the “standard operating procedure is to hold her back from advancement with her peers.”

Morrison & Foerster had claimed that Jane Doe 4’s claims were barred because she signed a release that prohibited claims that arose before her firing and because she failed to adequately allege a retaliation claim. The law firm claimed that Jane Doe 5’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations.

Corley agreed with Morrison & Foerster that Jane Doe 4’s retaliation claim should be tossed, and that Jane Doe 5’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations.

But Corley said Jane Doe 4’s allegations were sufficient to meet the pleading requirements of an economic duress claim that made the waiver unenforceable.

Jane Doe 4 said she was fired less than two months before she was due to give birth, she was the primary wage earner in her family, and her firing forced her to move with her family to less expensive housing.

She consulted a lawyer, but he refused to take on the case. Jane Doe 4 thought she had no other choice but to negotiate for more money, and despite little success, she signed the agreement, she alleged.

Those allegations were sufficient, at least at this stage of the litigation, Corley said.

“While this argument may not prevail on the merits, the court cannot say as a matter of law that a reasonably prudent woman who was eight months pregnant, was facing the loss of both her job and her paid maternity leave, was the primary wage earner in her family, and could no longer afford her current home, would have had reasonable alternatives to signing the release and accepting the severance package,” Corley wrote.

Corley had previously indicated that she thought that Jane Doe 4’s economic duress claim was adequate when she rejected Morrison & Foerster’s request for sanctions last month. The law firm had contended that Jane Doe 4 was wrongly added to the lawsuit despite signing the release.

Corley tossed a second claim in which Jane Doe 4 asserted a belief that Morrison & Foerster had provided negative job references that led three prominent law firms to turn her down for employment after a full interview process. Jane Doe 4 didn’t even allege that the law firms rejecting her had sought references from Morrison & Foerster, Corley said.

Corley also agreed with Morrison & Foerster that Jane Doe 5 had not made out a claim that her missed deadline for filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should be tolled.

Jane Doe 5 had claimed that the deadline should have been equitably tolled because of complications with her pregnancy. Corley said Jane Doe 5 had to add allegations showing that she had diligently pursued her claim after the alleged incapacity.