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WilmerHale Faces $5 Million Discrimination Suit

A former lawyer at the top Washington firm claims she was fired because of her gender, age, and family responsibilities.

Pamela Levinson.

One of Washington’s largest, most prestigious law firms is getting sued for $5 million in DC Superior Court for gender discrimination. Pamela Levinson, a lawyer at WilmerHale until last February, claims in her complaint that she was fired while on leave to care for her newly adopted daughter, and was denied salary increases and bonuses that she had earned.

Levinson, 53, alleges that the firm terminated her because of her gender, age, and family responsibilities. Levinson adopted a 22-month-old from China in 2011 and took four and a half months of paid leave. She went to law school later than most, and joined WilmerHale in 2004 as a 45-year-old fourth-year associate. Typically, fourth-year associates are in their late twenties or early thirties.

Levinson’s complaint cites positive performance reviews from her superiors as evidence that she was wrongfully fired. She names partner Randolph Moss, the chair of WilmerHale’s regulatory and government affairs department and one of its most prominent lawyers, as her mentor. She says that in a 2008 performance review, Moss said she made “invaluable contributions,” demonstrated “strong interpersonal skills,” and had “well-organized, clear, and concise” work. Levinson says that in 2010, four of five partners who evaluated her work recommended her for a promotion, yet she was informed that her future at the firm was “not promising.” In February 2012, while still on adoption leave, she says she was told the firm expected her to find another job .

Levinson asserts her rights under the District of Columbia’s Family and Medical Leave Act and Human Rights Act were violated by WilmerHale. She is asking for back pay with interest, $5 million in damages, and reimbursement of legal fees.

The Washingtonian has previously written about the difficulties of making partner—which Levinson wanted to do—at large firms like WilmerHale. It remains notoriously difficult for women to rise through the ranks of law firms. According to the National Association for Law Placement, in 2012, less than 20 percent of partners were women.

WilmerHale has 1,000-some attorneys and operates in a dozen cities in the US, Europe, and Asia. More than 400 of its lawyers, including high-profile figures such as former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick and former solicitor general Seth Waxman, work in its DC office.

Levinson is represented by the law firm Sanford Heisler.

Susan Murley, co-managing partner of WilmerHale, said in a statement that Levinson’s claims “are completely without merit” and promised that the firm will “vigorously defend” against them.

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