"I'm from the Government and I'm here to help you."
The Third Great Lie must be ringing in the ears of some 30 demoted partners of legal giant Sidley Austin. The EEOC has sued Sidley Austin on behalf of the partners, claiming that they were demoted on the basis of age discrimination, and is seeking millions of dollars of back pay. The case apparently has turned nasty, and some of the warfare is now intramural.
Law.com has the details.
The EEOC's suit against Sidley, filed in January 2005 after a five-year investigation, has received widespread attention in the legal profession because law firm partners have traditionally been considered employers exempt from anti-discrimination laws. The agency is taking the novel position that Sidley's highly centralized management structure, in which an unelected executive committee made almost all major decisions, rendered most partners at the firm employees.
Sidley Austin is defending, in part, by claiming that the demoted partners were deficient in performance and billing, and in one case, had a history of mental instability. Some have moved on to new jobs, and Sidley is now attempting to obtain discovery of their performance from their employers to buttress its defense. The EEOC has opposed the discovery requests, claiming that they are irrelevant to any issue in the case.
Some of the lawyers who are the subjects of the discovery requests have asked the EEOC to drop the case.
Several of the demoted partners have asked the EEOC to sever them from the case out of concern that such information will be publicly disclosed. The EEOC, which is seeking millions of dollars in back pay for the former partners, has refused such requests on the grounds that only the agency itself and none of the demoted partners is an actual party to the case.
So the Government is going to help whether the intended beneficiaries of governmental beneficence want the help or not.
This case will continue to make headlines, and may ultimately prove to be important to larger professional practices that are run by a small, core management group. We'll keep you advised.