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Employment Discrimination

WLP Files Brief in Sex Discrimination Case with Other National Women’s Organizations

On Friday, March 19, 2010, the Women’s Law Project, National Partnership for Women & Families, and National Women’s Law Center filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in an important Title VII sex discrimination case, Alyson Kirleis v. Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote.  

The case involves an employment discrimination claim brought by a woman who is a partner in a prominent Pittsburgh-based law firm.  She is alleging wage discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as a hostile work environment.  U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab granted the defendant law firm's motion for summary judgment, ruling that Title VII couldn't apply to Ms. Kirleis because it only protects “employees,” and she cannot be considered an “employee” as she is a partner at her firm.  The issue on appeal involves the application of a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Clackamas Gastroenterology Assocs. v. Wells, 538 U.S. 440 (2003), which construes the meaning of the terms “employer” and “employee” in federal anti-discrimination laws. Judge Schwab determined that Ms. Kirleis’s status as shareholder rendered her an “employer” and hence unprotected by Title VII, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.  

Our brief argues that the trial judge misconstrued Clackamas and used the wrong legal standard when he determined that Alyson Kirleis is not protected by federal anti-discrimination laws. Simply because she is called a “partner” doesn't mean that she controls the conditions of her job; in fact, evidence in the record, reflected in the district court opinion, shows that she had little or no control over the conditions of her employment, which were almost entirely dictated by the law firm’s Executive Committee. This Committee determined compensation, assigned 90% of the cases, and controlled virtually every aspect of law firm life. 

Given these facts, summary judgment was inappropriate. Because of the broad remedial purpose of Title VII, Kirleis should be treated as an “employee” entitled to the protection promised by our federal anti-discrimination laws.  Our brief also surveys the data indicating that sex discrimination is a persistent, pervasive, and severe problem in the legal profession, including among associates and even partners at the biggest law firms in Pennsylvania.  Specifically, we cite and discuss the 2008 Report and Recommendation of the Allegheny County Bar Association's Gender Equity Task Force, in which gendered wage disparities are identified as a severe, continuing problem for the profession. You can read the report and recommendations here:  http://www.acba.org/ACBA/pdf/ACBA_GenderReport_2008.pdf

We’ll keep you updated on this litigation as it progresses.