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Female shareholders file class action gender bias lawsuit against Greenberg Traurig

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A putative class action lawsuit was filed Monday against international law firm Greenberg Traurig L.L.P. by current and former female shareholders charging the firm with gender discrimination.

The lawsuit, Francine Friedman Griesing v. Greenberg Traurig L.L.P., which was filed by New York-based plaintiff law firm Sanford Heisler L.L.P. in federal district court in New York, seeks $200 million. There are about 215 women in the class, according to the lawsuit.

It says that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June found “reasonable cause to believe” New York-based Greenberg Traurig discriminated against its female attorneys in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act by compensating women less than similarly situated male counterparts and treating class members less favorably than similarly situated male shareholders.

The lawsuit states the “glass ceiling remains firmly in place at large law firms,” with a recent American Bar Association study of nationwide law firms finding female attorneys comprise 45% of law firm associates but only 15% of equity partners. It notes that at Greenberg Traurig, the title “shareholder” is the equivalent to the title “partner” at other firms.

“Yet even in a field dominated by archaic gender stereotypes, (Greenberg Traurig) stands out for its culture of discrimination against female attorneys,” says the lawsuit, which states only 9.6% of its equity shareholders are female, well below the 15% national average, and the firm ranks 193 out of 221 top law firms in the number of female equity partners, according to a study.

The law firm said in a Monday statement, “The lawsuit filed today by Francine Griesing and her attorneys is an affront to the accomplished, talented women of Greenberg Traurig, who, like all of our lawyers, are compensated based on merit. It is nothing more than a financially motivated publicity stunt without merit, backed by neither fact nor law.

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“Griesing's complaint paints a false picture of the work environment at Greenberg Traurig and the facts surrounding her initial claim to the EEOC. What her press release calls 'the EEOC's rare finding of class-wide discrimination at the firm' were in fact very narrow findings limited to one office and seven women, in a setting in which Ms. Greising was the sole complainant.

“Griesing refused to submit her claim to arbitration as required by the firm's shareholder agreement and instead filed in federal court. Accordingly, today the firm filed a petition in federal court in Philadelphia to compel arbitration.

“Greenberg Traurig has an exemplary record of fairness and advancement irrespective or gender, race or creed. Our history of recruiting, retaining, and promoting women and our law firm reflects that. The firm intends to vigorously defend our practices against her lawsuit and we fully expect to prevail.”