Winston & Strawn sued for gender discrimination – Law News

on Sep28

27 September 2017 | 10:23 am

A former partner has sued Winston & Strawn for gender discrimination, another such lawsuit to roil the profession.

Constance Ramos filed a complaint last month in California state court, alleging the Chicago-based law firm tied the fate of her career to male partners, forcing her out after the men left voluntarily.

In 2014, Ramos was the lowest-ranking lawyer in a trio of intellectual-property attorneys Winston hired from Hogan Lovells to join the firm’s San Francisco office. But Ramos got less support to develop new business than the two male lawyers, Korula “Sunny” Cherian and Scott Wales, and after they left in 2015, Winston cut her $450,000 salary by more than half to persuade her to follow, her lawsuit alleges.

“When I came to Winston, I expected to be evaluated on my own merits, assessed on my own accomplishments, and treated as an individual, not as an appendage to a male superior,” she wrote to Managing Partner Tom Fitzgerald in March 2016 in a letter referenced in the complaint.

Ramos resigned from the firm in July “under protest,” the lawsuit says. In a letter to the firm’s general counsel, she said “no reasonable attorney would be able to stay at Winston under these hostile circumstances. I have to support my family.”

Messages to Fitzgerald and firm spokeswoman Jill Shea were not returned. In a video Winston posted to YouTube in January 2014, Fitzgerald said diversity was critical to offering quality legal services. “Whenever we go out and try to identify a lateral opportunity to add to our workforce who has a skill that we don’t have or practices in an area we don’t have, diversity is top of mind,” he said.

In 2017 women comprised 19 percent of equity partners nationwide, partners with an ownership stake in the firm, according to a survey released last week by the Chicago-based National Association of Women Lawyers. That’s up 3 percentage points from a decade earlier.

Female lawyers at large law firms have filed a flurry of suits in the past two years alleging discrimination. In Chicago, insurance litigator Traci Ribeiro sued San Francisco-based Sedgwick, later settling the case in arbitration and moving her practice to Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff. Proskauer Rose, which has a local office, and Norton Rose Fulbright, which does not, also are battling gender bias lawsuits.

Women in traditionally male-dominated professions, including law, are rejecting the status quo, says Andrea Kramer, a partner in the Chicago office of McDermott Will & Emery and co-author of “Breaking Through Bias.” But suing requires personal bravery, since “very often you’re cast as a pariah.”

Nevertheless, she says “the sea change is putting the pressure on the firms directly that they can’t just let business as usual continue.”

There’s also been some limited pressure by clients to use their influence with law firms to improve diversity.

Winston reported $823 million in revenue in 2016 with $1.8 million in profits per partner. It is among the 50 largest firms in the nation by revenue and the fifth-largest in Chicago by number of local lawyers. Key clients include Bank of America and Abbott Laboratories. According to Ramos’ lawsuit, the firm promised to help newly hired lawyers there develop connections and maximize business opportunities. But the co-chair of the IP practice “showed no interest whatsoever” in helping Ramos and said he would “talk to Sunny and Scott” about it instead. The firm also disregarded her requests to include her professional profile on the webpage for the San Francisco office.

Winston income partners—lower-level partners without an ownership stake—receive a bonus if they bill more than 1,900 hours annually, the lawsuit says. Ramos’ 2,250 hours billed in fiscal 2016 made her the second-highest billing partner in the San Francisco office, according to the complaint, which says she received no bonus when male attorneys reportedly received $100,000 for the year.

Ramos began practicing law in 1999 and before that earned a doctorate in biophysics. She brought in $1.3 million in new business and $2.3 million in billings over her three years at Winston, the lawsuit says. Fitzgerald called her performance “at best very poor” and faulted her for taking credit for a trade secret case that had generated $7 million in attorney fees and costs, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit was first reported by the American Lawyer.



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