Similar to the pending age discrimination case brought against Sidley Austin by 32 of its former partners, a lawsuit filed by a former Hinshaw & Culbertson partner alleges that the Chicago firm violated discrimination laws that generally apply to employer-employee relationships.
And also like the Sidley Austin case, the outcome of the dispute may hinge on the plaintiff’s role as partner and the amount of management control she had in her job at the large firm.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the lawsuit brought by Susan Hickman asserts that in 2004 she was demoted from equity partner to a contract partner and a year later was terminated after she went to management at 414-attorney Hinshaw & Culbertson about a sexually hostile environment and disparate treatment of women at the firm. She began as an associate there in 1985.
Specifically, Hickman claims that the firm violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it retaliated by firing her last year for complaining about a hostile work environment that began in 2003. Hickman, who was an environmental law partner, also asserts that management took no corrective action about the alleged harassment.
But in its answer filed last month, Hinshaw & Culbertson argues, among other things, that Hickman cannot claim federal sexual harassment under Title VII for the alleged conduct that occurred while she was a partner, since she is not protected by the law as an employee.