Global law firm Clifford Chance has denied the charges of discrimination slapped against it in a lawsuit filed by a former associate in connection with 2007 layoffs.
Clifford Chance has asserted that it had non-discriminatory reasons for its actions toward the six associates, one of whom was Karen Ramdhanie.
Ramdhanie had filed the lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court alleging violations of New York City's human rights law in October.
In the lawsuit, Ramdhanie has accused Clifford Chance of indulging in systematic and illegal discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, and age. She has also accused the firm of subjecting her to treatment that was less well than other employees at the firm, who were at or below Ramdhanie's class level.
They were so blatant in their discrimination, Ramdhanie told the New York Law Journal in an interview.
Ramdhanie, who is West Indian female of African descent, said she joined Clifford Chance in December 2006 after a stint at UBS and, before that, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Ramdhanie said she was a member of a specialized group in the firm's structured finance practice that worked exclusively with client Standard & Poor's. Her work involved reviewing documentation to rate mortgage-backed securities.
In her complaint, Ramdhanie said partners at the law firm had assured her that she would soon be assigned transactional work. She was also told that the S&P group was 'highly regarded but instead she felt that the group was marginalized and was disproportionately black.
In November 2007, Ramdhanie and three black lawyers as well as two white female lawyers were laid off. Two white male lawyers who were part of the S&P group, were reassigned to other groups shortly before the layoff, Ramdhanie said.
Ramdhanie said the firm also refused to give her special bonus or even year-end bonus despite the fact that she had worked very hard for the firm throughout the year. Instead, she was handed only three months' severance pay.
The layoff destroyed Ramdhanie's family life - not only did she suffer from depression and needed professional help but also her 17-year marriage collapsed and her relationship with her sons became strained.
The complaint also said that Ramdhanie's finances and credit were destroyed and to survive she had to accept all kind of legal work ranging from advising a client in Family Court to personal injury cases.
Ramdhanie is seeking compensatory and punitive damages alleging emotional distress, humiliation, damage to reputation and future earning potential caused to her. She also claims that the layoff resulted in loss of enjoyment of life and violated her civil rights.
Ramdhanie is also seeking a letter of apology from the firm and has demanded that it changes its hiring, placement, assignment of work and termination policies with regard to black associates.
However, Clifford Chance is contesting Ramdhanie's claims, saying any damages suffered by Ramdhanie were caused or contributed by her own actions.
The law firm is saying that Ramdhanie's lawsuit is barred by the statute of limitations and that she had failed to satisfy the prerequisites of filing an action under the human rights law.
Clifford Chance also claims that the layoff decisions were taken in good faith.
The firm is being represented by Bettina Plevin, a partner at Proskauer Rose. Plevin has represented DLA Piper; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; and other firms in disputes with former associates.
Ramdhanie's allegation that the law firm indulges in discriminatory practices is not new. In 2005, Asma Hasan, a former Muslim associate at Clifford Chance's San Francisco office, had sued the firm, accusing it of practicing religious discrimination when it fired her a year earlier.
In 2008, Caroline Memnon, a black associate of Haitian descent, had also sued Clifford Chance for firing her in 2002. Memnon had accused the firm of discriminatory practices and said the layoff made it difficult for her to obtain future employment. According to The American Lawyer, the firm later had offered to pay her $350,000 to settle the matter.
According to findings based on NLJ 250, The National Law Journal's annual ranking of the nation's largest law firms, the percentage of women lawyers in America's top 250 law firms has declined in 2010.
In 2010, women associates and partners declined to 29.2 percent of all lawyers in top law firms from 32 percent in 2006 and 30 percent in 2009, NLJ has reported.
While Stephanie Scharf, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers Foundation, feels the decline could be due to the structural changes that law firms have implemented in recent years, Jessie Kornberg, executive director of Ms. JD, an online resource for women attorneys, claims law practice is becoming less attractive to women because there's little scope for advancement.