Attorney files pay equity suit against Reed Smith

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Women at Pittsburgh's second-largest law firm are paid less than men for the same work, rarely get promoted, and work in an environment in which the sexual interest of male bosses affects their advancement prospects, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

Those are the allegations at the heart of attorney JoEllen Lyons Dillon's complaint against her employer -- contentions global firm Reed Smith countered with a statement that it "provides a positive working environment in all of our offices, including Pittsburgh." Reed Smith would not comment further, saying it had not had a chance to review the lawsuit.

Attorney Samuel J. Cordes, who represents Ms. Dillon, said he found "that there is a pattern here of a male locker room, and it includes sexual favors," adding that his client didn't participate in that part of the "games guys play."

"It's painting a picture of a firm that does not treat women equally," he said of the complaint.

The lawsuit highlights the long-festering issue of pay equity at large law firms, where there can be no claim of ignorance of statutes such as the Equal Pay Act, which requires that employers pay the same to men and women doing work requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility. A 2008 Allegheny County Bar Association report, based on 2005 survey data, found that male and female lawyers put in essentially identical hours, but women are one-quarter as likely to move into the $250,000-and-up pay range.

Ms. Dillon, 47, of Squirrel Hill, jumped from Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney to Reed Smith's business and finance department in 2002, but alleges in the complaint that she had to fight for fair pay from the beginning.

She moved from Downtown's third-largest firm to its second-largest along with fellow partners Stephen Johnson and James Barnes, but they were offered $50,000 a year more than she was, her complaint said. When the two men balked at the discrepancy, the complaint continued, the firm agreed to pay her the same.

She brought in millions of dollars of business annually, and sought a promotion from non-equity partner -- with no share in the profits -- to equity partner. She was not promoted, and after she took a few months off to have twins, her pay was "decreased almost by half" in 2009, according to the lawsuit. Then in January her pay was "reduced by another $100,000," it said, and her appeal of that decision was denied.

The complaint said that in 2007, the firm's Pittsburgh office had 49 male equity partners and only seven female equity partners, with the men earning, on average, $129,000 more per year than the women.

A study released in October by researchers at Temple University and the University of Texas found a double-whammy for women at 200 large law firms. They were less likely to be promoted from associate to partner and earned less once they got there.

A salary study by the National Law Journal, which focused on small and midsize law firms, found that male associates made $9,000 more than women, male nonequity partners outstripped their female colleagues by $34,000, and among full partners, the pay gap was $88,000 a year.

Advancement opportunity at large law firms depends on one's ability to attract work -- initially from partners, who dole out the cases internally, according to Mr. Cordes. The work flow at Reed Smith was influenced by romantic liaisons, he said.

The complaint said that "work was diverted ... to female attorneys who were willing to engage in sexual relations with members of [Reed Smith] management or with whom members of [Reed Smith] management had sought to engage in such relations."

Mr. Cordes said he would produce examples of sexual quid pro quos as the case continues.

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542.


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