Jury Awards Paralegal $700,000 in Pregnancy Discrimination Case

by Daniel Schwartz on August 29, 2008

Some time ago, Baker & McKenzie got sued for sexual harassment. That case sent shockwaves throughout lawfirms nationwide.

A case out of New York last week  (ABA Journal Online, 8/22) will not reverberate nearly that loudly but considering how some lawfirms are still perceived (fairly or unfairly) as not being “family-friendly”, the case should be of concern nonetheless.  

A jury has awarded about $720,000 in damages to an associate and paralegal who claimed they were forced out of their New York law firm because of their pregnancies.

Garden City, N.Y., tax law firm Siegel, Fenchel & Peddy will only have to pay about $266,000 if the verdict is upheld because of a punitive damages cap, the firm’s lawyer told the New York Law Journal.

Obviously, there’s always more to the story than the headlines (and, it should be noted that the lawfirm strongly denied the allegations), but I can’t help but wonder how many other lawfirms are ripe for such lawsuits because of the perception of the firm.  Given stereotypes of the hard-charging lawyer, it’s not that hard to then believe that a firm would discriminate against someone perceived to be not working as hard because of their pregnancy. 

{ 4 comments }

1 shg 08.29.08 at 5:25 pm

SF&P is a small tax cert firm on Long Island. Not exactly a “hard-charging” Biglaw outfit. Nice guys doing volume work.

2 Daniel Schwartz 08.29.08 at 7:55 pm

Good point and I didn’t mean to suggest that I knew anything about that lawfirm — only that stereotypes exist about lawyers in general. The public (and juries) sometimes don’t make the distinctions sometimes that lawyers do. In my world of employment law, people call me almost daily to represent them — unaware that I typically represent companies.

3 David Wisniewski 08.30.08 at 12:14 pm

It is interesting how law firms are subject to so many Title VII suits. You would think that them being attorneys, they would know what is and isn’t discrimination and what is and isn’t permissible. Part of the reason, I think, is that some attorneys are arrogant and think that the “rules” don’t apply to them.

4 SmokeVanThorn 09.02.08 at 1:00 pm

David – Other reasons law firms are subject to so many suits: their employees (including attorneys) (1) are more aware of their potential claims; (2) are more litigious and (3) have more access to legal resources.

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