A former attorney with Wilmer Culter Pickering Hale and Dorr has filed a $5 million discrimination suit against the firm, in which she alleges that the firm retaliated against her taking leave to adopt a child.
The complaint was filed Thursday in D.C. Superior Court. The firm, which says the charges are without merit, has not yet had a chance to file a response to the suit in court.
Pamela Levinson joined Wilmer's Washington, D.C., office in September 2004 as a fourth year associate at the age of 45. In early December 2011, Levinson took 4½ months of leave to adopt a 22-month-old child. She was let go by the firm in February 2012.
The complaint cites Levinson's performance reviews as evidence of her hard work and excellent performance. In January 2008, Levinson was promoted to counsel. During one evaluation later that year, Randolph Moss, chair of the firm's regulatory and government affairs department, said that Levinson had made "invaluable contributions" and produced "well-organized, clear, and concise" written work. But that fall, Levinson was informed by Moss, named as her mentor in the complaint, that she would not be considered for a partnership position.
In 2009, Levinson received "unanimously positive" spring and fall evaluations, with all three of her reviewing partners recommending her to be promoted to special counsel, according to the complaint. Instead, Levinson was told that her long-term prospects at the firm were limited. Her base salary was frozen and she received no annual bonus for 2009.
Levinson was assigned to work on an off-label pharmaceutical marketing matter in late 2010, but was subsequently removed from the matter. Levinson alleges that Stephen Jonas, Wilmer's chair of the investigations and criminal litigation group, was "trying to get rid of" her, choosing to replace her with "someone other than Ms. Levinson who actually had a 'future at the firm.'"
According to the complaint, Wilmer provides for 4½ months of paid adoption leave, which should not adversely affect advancement. Levinson contends that her 2011 bonus of $22,000 should have been $35,000 to $50,000. When Levinson went to collect her bonus in February, she was directed to retrieve the bonus and 2011 evaluation from partner Craig Goldblatt, "who is known at WilmerHale for delivering career-altering news to attorneys." It was in Goldblatt's office that Levinson was allegedly told she "would be expected to 'transition to another job.'"
Levinson's complaint alleges that the firm violated the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act and the D.C. Human Rights Act for discrimination "because of her age, sex and family responsibilities," as well as for retaliation and wrongful discharge.
In a statement, Susan Murley, Wilmer's co-managing partner, said that the claims are "completely without merit and we will vigorously defend the firm." Moss, Jonas and Goldblatt did not responded to requests for comment. Because the suit was just filed, Wilmer has not yet had a chance to formally lay out its defense in court.
Levinson is represented by Sanford Heisler founding partner and chairman David Sanford and associate Brandon Jamison. In an interview, Jamison vowed that the firm would see the case through completion and to trial, if necessary.
"We feel the evidence will bear out that she hit a glass ceiling and met and surpassed the objectives set out before her," Jamison said. "She was, not surprisingly, blindsided when her salary was frozen and her position was terminated."
Matthew Huisman writes for the Blog of Legal Times, a Daily Report affiliate.