Lawsuit Challenges Lower Pay for Female Lawyers

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The New York Times reports that a number of lawsuits have recently been brought charging that major US law firms are breaking the law by paying female partners less than their male colleagues.

According to a survey of 2,100 law firm partners, female partners earn on average about $300,000 per year. That may sound like a lot of money, but it’s one-third less than what male partners make, on average.

Women are also under-represented in the ranks of partners.

Women now make up the majority of law students. 45% of law firm associates are women. But only 18% of law firm partners are women.

Kerrie Campbell, a partner in the Washington, DC office of the Chadbourne & Parke firm, sued the firm in August after being told that she was being fired.

$100 Million in Damages

She’s seeking $100 million on behalf of herself and other female partners. Campbell claims that the women are paid less even when they bring in more revenue than men.

Another lawyer, Traci Ribeiro, sued the Sedgwick law firm in San Francisco, one of the 200 largest law firms in the US.

Ribeiro alleged that, even though she brought in the third-highest amount of revenue of any partner in the firm, she was given a pay cut and told at a meeting that she “needed to learn how to behave.”

The Point System

The Chadbourne firm determines compensation based on a point system.

Campbell charged that 11 of the firm’s 18 female partners were allotted significantly lower points than men.

Although Campbell earned $5 million for the firm, making her one of the firm’s top earners, her pay was in the bottom-third for all partners.

Campbell, with 27 years of experience, complained about her pay discrepancy.  In response, she was given a deadline to leave the firm and her pay rate was reduced to that of a first-year associate, with no benefits. 

Even asked being asked to leave the firm, Campbell brought in $1 million in legal fees.

Eventually, the firm voted to expel her as a partner and cut off her salary entirely.

Two other female  Chadbourne lawyers have joined Campbell’s lawsuit.

The second is Mary T. Yelenick, who recently retired after 35 years with the firm.

The third is Jaroslawa Z. Johnson, an American lawyer who was in charge of the firm’s Kiev, Ukraine office for 10 years until it closed in 2014.

Johnson also alleged that although she made more money for the firm she was paid less than men.

A spokesman for Chadbourne has denied Campbell’s discrimination claims.


One reason that female lawyers make less money is that bonuses are based in part on new clients and matters brought into a firm.

However, women say that men are more likely to hand off clients to other men.

According to the Times, women fear reprisals if they complain about disparate treatment. Most endure it, or change firms, rather than bring legal action.

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