A Pittsburgh law firm is poised to square off in a federal appeals court against one of its own partners in a potentially groundbreaking sex discrimination suit that could open the door to women lawyers suing for equal pay — even after they have been named partners.
Attorney Alyson J. Kirleis’ suit against Dickie McCamey & Chilcote already set a legal precedent when the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that she could not be forced to arbitrate her claims, rejecting the firm’s argument that its bylaws mandate arbitration.
But when the case was remanded, it was assigned to a new judge, U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab of the Western District of Pennsylvania, who granted summary judgment in favor of the firm on the grounds that Kirleis — as a shareholder and member of the firm’s board of directors — cannot be considered an “employee” of the firm.
Now, in a second appeal, Kirleis is asking the 3rd Circuit to revive her case, arguing that despite her titles of shareholder and director, she should be treated as an employee because her work is “subject to the control of” the firm’s 13-member executive committee.
Supporting Kirleis is an amicus brief from the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, the National Women’s Law Center and the National Partnership for Women & Families, which says Schwab’s decision “relied on a mistaken view of how law firms currently function and misapplied the appropriate legal standard, denying Kirleis a day in court.”
In the suit, Kirleis accuses Dickie McCamey of paying female lawyers less than males and claims she has been told by a male partner that a woman with children should relinquish her partnership and work only part-time.
Kirleis, 46, who has worked at the firm since 1988, also claims she was told by another male partner that the role of women lawyers was to prepare lawsuits for trials that would be handled by male lawyers.