Six women attorneys allege the international law firm Jones Day “operates as a fraternity” in a class action filed in DC federal court Wednesday. In the complaint, they describe systemic gender discrimination, sexual harassment, diminished work opportunities for women lawyers who become pregnant, and “a culture of male privilege” in which “women must work harder for less to have any hope of advancing.” The plaintiffs allege they were given remedial work, denied promotions, and ultimately forced out of the firm, despite positive performance reviews, because of their gender.
They claim that managing partner Stephen Brogan, who is based in the Washington office, wields “nearly absolute control” over the firm, and is ultimately responsible for compensation and partnership decisions they say unfairly favor male Jones Day lawyers. Because the law firm uses a “black box” system, in which lawyers are not allowed to know one another’s compensation, the plaintiffs allege Brogan can deny women equal pay unchecked.
Two of the plaintiffs are named: Nilab Rahyar Tolton and Andrea Mazingo both worked as associates in Jones Day’s Irvine, California, office—Tolton from 2010 until 2018, and Mazingo from 2014 until last year. Today, Tolton works at the California firm Call & Jensen, and Mazingo works at Orrick. Four additional plaintiffs are unnamed.
“I don’t think that anybody desires to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit. I don’t think anybody desires to sue their former employer,” Tolton says in an interview with Washingtonian. “What you have here are people who want to stand up for what is right and what is long overdue.”
Jones Day employs more than 2,500 lawyers worldwide. Its Washington office houses roughly 250 attorneys, and in recent years, has become closely connected to Donald Trump. Jones Day represents Trump’s reelection campaign, represented his 2016 campaign, and has sent at least 17 of its attorneys into the administration, including former White House counsel Donald McGahn, who recently rejoined its partnership.
But Tolton and Mazingo say their lawsuit is unrelated to the firm’s Trump ties. “I’m concerned about the lack of advancement opportunities for women, and the pay discrimination,” says Mazingo. “There is no political motivation.”
The plaintiffs allege that firm social events “regularly devolved” into opportunities for male lawyers and clients to harass and humiliate women. For instance, the complaint reads, “During a limo ride to a summer associate event, male attorneys from the office initiated a game of ‘Fuck, Marry, Kill’ in which they named coworkers from the office and proposed to whom they would do each of these things.” At a separate event, the complaint describes how a male summer associate pushed a female summer associate wearing a white dress into a swimming pool, and was subsequently applauded and high-fived by firm leadership.
The consequence of such a culture, the women allege, is that male partners routinely give the best work to male associates, who then make more money and get promoted to partner over their female counterparts.
The complaint alleges that “female associates regularly endure comments on their appearances, their attire, and their bodies.” Among many examples detailed in the lawsuit, one of the plaintiffs says she was criticized for having a “stern face” and told to “smile more.” Another says a male partner openly referred to her as “eye candy.” Mazingo alleges that a partner supervising her work routinely subjected her to sexist remarks, including telling her to wear heels and frequently demanding to know why she looked “prettier than usual.”
Tolton and one of the anonymous women both became pregnant while working at the firm. Upon returning from maternity leave, they claim they were “quickly cut off from the quantity and quality of work” they had received previously. After both women became pregnant again, they allege they were “instructed to find other employment and to leave” Jones Day within a few months of returning from maternity leave. At the same time, another of the anonymous plaintiffs alleges she was “criticized for not having a family, because without one, she was told, she would not be able to relate to clients.”
The plaintiffs are represented by the firm Sanford Heisler Sharp, which has brought similar cases against many other law firms. A spokesman for Jones Day did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
*This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the lawsuit has now been officially filed.