Proskauer Partner Connie Bertram Receives $50M For Gender Bias Suit

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The suit alleged substantial gender disparities in Proskauer’s partnership, and accused high profile men at the firm—chairman Joseph Leccese and securities partner Ralph Ferrara—of making inappropriate comments about Bertram’s appearance.

Proskauer Partner Connie Bertram Receives $50M For Gender Bias Suit

Proskauer Rose partner Connie Bertram and her firm have agreed  to end the $50 million gender discrimination lawsuit that Bertram lodged against the law firm last year.

The parties filed a stipulation of dismissal late Friday in Washington, D.C., federal court, saying they agreed to have the case tossed in its entirety. Further details on the agreement weren’t publicly available in the court docket.

Kathleen McKenna of Proskauer, who led the firm’s defense, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, while a firm spokesperson said only that the matter has been resolved. David Sanford of Sanford Heisler Sharp, who represented Bertram, said in a statement, “unfortunately, we are unable to comment.”

The stipulation to dismiss the case follows a mediation process begun under an April court order. In the months since then, the two sides asked multiple times to push back a deadline to update U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on the status of the case and mediation.

The case landed in court in May 2017, when a then-unnamed Proskauer lawyer—initially dubbed “Jane Doe” and described as a Washington-based labor and employment partner—filed her complaint seeking at least $50 million in damages.

After proceeding as a Jane Doe lawsuit for nearly a year, Bertram in April revealed her identity in an amended complaint that also added some claims to the suit, which claimed Proskauer “consistently underpays its top female talent.”

Bertram, who remains a partner at the firm, has served as head of the D.C. labor and employment practice, co-head of the whistleblower and retaliation group, and head of the government contractor compliance group. As of Saturday afternoon, Proskauer continued to list those leadership roles in Bertram’s online firm biography.

The suit alleged substantial gender disparities in Proskauer’s partnership, and accused high profile men at the firm—chairman Joseph Leccese and securities partner Ralph Ferrara—of making inappropriate comments about Bertram’s appearance.

“Proskauer excluded plaintiff from client matters, declined to allow plaintiff to pitch or to participate in any employment litigation matter for firm clients, rebuffed her efforts to assume a greater leadership role at the firm, tolerated and facilitated an environment where she was targeted for harassment and humiliation by firm leadership, demeaned and belittled her to her peers and clients, and refused to rectify pay disparities,” the suit alleged.

Proskauer has strongly denied the allegations from the case’s earliest stages. Answering Bertram’s amended complaint, the firm in May accused her of relying on “cherry-picked” statistics to support her claims of unfair pay.

“She focuses on those metrics most favorable to her, ignores others that expose weaknesses in the profitability of her practice, and affords no recognition to non-metric factors critical to” compensation decisions, Proskauer wrote in May. “Plaintiff also ignores the financial rewards that she obtained by joining Proskauer.”

The firm also argued that Bertram’s status as an equity partner at the firm makes her a business owner who should not be able to invoke anti-discrimination laws designed to protect employees. Bertram’s lawyers have countered that “rank-and-file” partners at the firm have little control over its strategic or business decisions and effectively serve as employees as defined under anti-bias laws.

In March Jackson denied a bid by Proskauer to defeat the case on summary judgment. The judge set the two sides toward a period of limited discovery focused on the key initial question in the case: whether Bertram should be considered an employee.

The judge in April laid out a schedule for that discovery, but also directed the two sides to mediation with a senior judge under an alternative dispute resolution proceeding established in the court’s local rules.

Friday’s dismissal comes almost exactly six months after plaintiffs lawyers at Sanford Heisler reached a settlement with Chadbourne & Parke and successor firm Norton Rose Fulbright in a similar case brought by a former Chadbourne partner, Kerrie Campbell. That deal involved at least $3 million in payments to Campbell and two other women, and Chadbourne also issued an unusual statement lauding Campbell’s contribution “to important ongoing dialogue within the profession about gender issues.”

 

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