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
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.