San Francisco, CA – Chicago-based attorney Traci Ribeiro filed suit against her employer, the San Francisco-based litigation firm of Sedgwick LLP, alleging that she has been subjected to years of systemic gender discrimination in compensation and promotion to equity partner. The complaint contains allegations by Traci Ribeiro that she has endured and witnessed flagrant gender discrimination. Ms. Ribeiro has now filed a lawsuit alleging violations of California, Illinois and federal anti-discrimination, anti-retaliation and equal pay laws. She also is seeking to certify a class action suit consisting of the Firm’s female attorneys past and present.
Sedgwick employs over 300 attorneys nationwide and is headquartered in San Francisco. As of the end of June, only 9 of Sedgwick’s 54 equity partners were women.
“Traci Ribeiro was one of the Firm’s top three highest revenue-generators in 2015 and repeatedly bested her peers in revenue generation in prior years. However she has not received promotion to Equity Partner, nor do we believe that she has received pay commensurate with her contribution to the Firm,” said attorney Sharon Vinick.
Chicago attorney J. Bryan Wood added, “We believe that the evidence will show that through systemic gender discrimination, the Firm and its leadership have made it nearly impossible for Traci and other female lawyers to be upwardly mobile. At the same time, the Complaint alleges that the Firm has retaliated against Traci for efforts to raise awareness and solve the problem, and that the assertiveness that makes Traci a successful lawyer is being punished, not praised, because she’s a woman.”
As an example of the Firm’s inability to treat assertive women equitably, the Complaint alleges that a top leader of the Firm told Sedgwick’s equity partners that Ribeiro “needed to learn to behave” as a basis for lowering Ribeiro’s compensation. As the Complaint alleges, he said this even though he had no personal interactions with Ribeiro, so his comments could only have been based on her gender.
As described in the Complaint, through the years, Sedgwick’s systemic discrimination was carried out by its all-male leadership. Even today, the Firm maintains a closed compensation system with no formal process for applying for promotion to non-equity partner or equity partner. Until 2016, and only after Ribeiro’s complaints, no woman had ever served on Sedgwick’s Executive Committee – the committee that makes salary and promotion recommendations for non-equity partners.
Ribeiro alleges in the suit that Sedgwick pays female attorneys substantially less than their male counterparts, and that Sedgwick’s male-dominated culture systematically excludes women from positions of power within the Firm, which in turn leads to lower compensation for female attorneys as compared to male attorneys.
Attorney J. Bryan Wood said, “We think that Sedgwick’s systematic discrimination pattern is undeniable. Female attorneys make up about fifty percent of Sedgwick’s associates, but barely more than fifteen percent of the equity partners who share in the Firm’s profits. In addition, we have concluded that decisions about attorneys’ compensation and promotion to equity partner are based on highly subjective criteria and recommendations by the Firm’s male-dominated leadership.”
Traci Ribeiro, the plaintiff, added, “I filed this lawsuit to bring to light what I believe is Sedgwick’s systemic gender discrimination against me and all the women who both preceded me and will follow. Let’s be clear, it is well past time for equal pay and access to Firm leadership for all female lawyers…not just me. This convention season, Clinton and Trump support equal pay for women – it’s an issue everyone can agree on.”
According to the American Bar Association Journal, the legal industry is among the worst in providing equal pay.
Ms. Ribeiro seeks to have her day in court, while Sedgwick is attempting to enforce an arbitration provision it claims covers the dispute. Sedgwick only sought to enforce this provision after Ms. Ribeiro filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February 2016.
Ms. Ribeiro is represented by Sharon Vinick of Oakland’s Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP and J. Bryan Wood of The Wood Law Office, LLC in Chicago. Traci Ribeiro works at Sedgwick’s Chicago office. She joined Sedgwick in 2011. The lawsuit was filed on July 26, 2016 in Superior Court for the State of California, San Francisco County.
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Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP’s partners have, collectively, represented plaintiffs in employment cases for almost a century. Their practice reflects their commitment to helping employees remedy problems that have occurred in the workplace. http://www.levyvinick.com
The Wood Law Office, LLC represents individuals from CEOs to entry-level employees in employment law matters, including individual, group and class action litigation, and advises small businesses about compliance with employment laws. www.jbryanwoodlaw.com