Former employees at Jones Day claim there is a 'boys' club' culture and sexual discrimination at the powerhouse law firm representing Trump's campaign

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Jones Day, the major law firm that made headlines this week when attorneys complained to The New York Times about their employer’s role in election-related litigation, is facing accusations of sexism in the workplace that, lawsuits say, led to unfair advantages for men.

Three federal lawsuits filed between 2016 and 2019 have contained claims of gender and pregnancy discrimination against the firm.

One, filed in April 2019, claims that the firm discriminates against women by paying them less than male peers, while another, brought by a married couple who once worked together at Jones Day, claims the firm does not give men and women the same amount of leave time after having a child.

A third, filed in 2018 by former partner Wendy Moore over wrongful termination and gender discrimination, was settled last year. 

Business Insider found separate allegations that have not been previously reported or filed in a suit. The findings are a result of interviews with dozens of people who have worked at the firm. The people who shared allegations did so on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, though their identities are known to us.

One of the people, a female former associate, said she had filed a complaint against Jones Day with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2019, claiming she was discriminated against after taking two maternity leaves. She said that the senior partner she worked with did not allow her to attend client outings and pitches, paid her below market, and told her she would never make partner at the firm.

This associate also said there was a “boys’ club” culture in which at least two partners occasionally rubbed elbows with clients at a strip club, and her boss held Scotch-drinking sessions in his office.

Some of the insiders we spoke with described a culture where some lawyers said they would feel uncomfortable raising concerns about allegations of inappropriate remarks or misconduct.

They said that this culture dovetailed with Jones Day’s “black-box” pay system, wherein the firm does not disclose to its lawyers what the other lawyers in the firm earn in total compensation. Both male and female lawyers said that they felt they were not being treated fairly when it came to compensation.

Bruce MacEwen, a consultant to law firms, said that a black-box pay system is not necessarily an ill-conceived policy. But to the extent that any firm has a culture where other areas of the firm aren’t transparent — like complaints about the workplace or general dissent about the direction of the firm — there is a problem.

Dave Petrou, senior manager of global public relations at Jones Day, did not respond to emails and follow-up phone calls about these previously unreported allegations. Nor did Jones Day managing partner Stephen Brogan.

Jones Day has fought back against the pending litigation against the firm, calling claims that the firm pays male attorneys more than female attorneys made up “out of whole cloth.”

A former associate filed a case with the EEOC

The complaint to the EEOC, which Business Insider reviewed, alleged events dating back to 2013, when the former associate said a partner told her that hiring women was “bad for business” after she explained that another associate was out on maternity leave. She complained about the comment, which she viewed as discriminatory, and, to her knowledge, nothing was done about it, according to the allegations.

The five-page document detailed her career trajectory at Jones Day, alleging she was sidelined after she took maternity leave, with the senior partner rarely allowing her to speak to clients. She said that she would “mutely attend” meetings, functioning largely as a secretary.

The associate also said her boss held Scotch-drinking sessions in his office, and that she was excluded from these events except for one time when she was briefing her boss in his office while male lawyers began showing up for their drinking tradition. She said she was allowed to stay, but was visibly an outsider, sitting by the window, on the periphery of the group, her attempts to join the conversation “quashed” as she was cut off or ignored.

The EEOC told Business Insider it could not comment on any possible complaints or confirm or deny the existence of such a charge, citing confidentiality rules. The person who filed the complaint provided Business Insider with a screenshot of an emailed receipt from the EEOC to confirm authenticity of the filing.

A ‘black box’ on pay

While law firms sometimes take an opaque approach to pay, many people Business Insider interviewed said that Jones Day was known to be more extreme in implementing its black-box policy, with some believing it could be considered a fireable offense to speak of your own compensation to others.

The policy was welcomed by some of the insiders we spoke with.

One lawyer who worked at the firm as an associate said she didn’t know how much other lawyers earned in pay but didn’t care, saying her annual six-figure paycheck made her feel valued. Another attorney who worked at the firm as a partner said it was refreshing that partners didn’t know how much others earned. In his experience, it fostered collegiality, because partners weren’t griping about colleagues who out-earned them.

Several lawyers, male and female, expressed gratitude for the work and pay they received while working at Jones Day. But others found that the system reinforced the firm’s hierarchy and led to suspicions that lawyers were being underpaid.

One male attorney who worked at Jones Day as an associate in 2018 kept an annual log of how much less he earned at Jones Day compared with reports of associate pay at peer firms, where compensation was usually shared within the firms and reported on websites like Above the Law.

During his sixth year at Jones Day, he estimated, based on his own pay and the market compensation of sixth-year associates at peer firms, that his salary had fallen $77,500 below the market rate of other firms in his city, according to documentation reviewed by Business Insider. 

Currently, Jones Day is engaged in discovery disputes in one of the suits filed against it, a class action, which seeks access to the firm’s pay records. 

At a hearing last month, an attorney for Jones Day said the firm was worried about the potential that the pay records it was being asked to produce would leak despite the presence of a protective order, and said it wanted to redact certain information first.

The firm has said its experts’ analysis of pay data showed no gender-pay disparity. But plaintiffs in the class action are seeking more information about how managing partner Stephen Brogan modifies pay recommendations passed up to him by office leaders. The plaintiffs claim the limited data they have seen suggests that Brogan is more likely to deviate from recommendations to give male associates raises than he is to do the same for women. They also argued that the data they have suggests that bumps he gave to men were larger than those for women.

A ‘no complaints’ culture

Some of the people Business Insider interviewed said they didn’t believe Jones Day was necessarily any worse than other large law firms in terms of its culture. With a law firm as large as Jones Day, with more than 2,500 lawyers, there are bound to be some who behave poorly, several former lawyers said.

But five lawyers said they believed that Jones Day had a “no complaints” culture and that it contributed to an environment where some attorneys felt uncomfortable raising concerns.

Its partners discouraged associates from complaining about their work, the five attorneys said. At orientation for summer associates in 2019, one senior partner put on a presentation that featured a slide with the word “whining” and an “X” slashed through it, a lawyer who was there said.

Sources also said that associate-performance reviews consisted of partners collecting anonymous feedback from the associates’ superiors throughout the year. They said that select excerpts were read back to the associates in their annual reviews, but the feedback was not given to the associates in writing. It was an unusual feature that some felt placed even more power in the hands of partners, who could cherry-pick issues from the feedback from superiors, while keeping the paper trail to themselves.

Meanwhile, power was consolidated in the upper ranks, with a sole managing partner, Stephen Brogan, granted power to make personnel and other management decisions without much consensus from other firm members, as is sometimes required at other firms, the sources said.

This has helped create fewer checks and balances and less transparency than some comparably sized law firms, which have committees and partners voting on key decisions, several sources said.

Multiple sources also characterized Jones Day as closed-off in nature, though they also said that there were signs it might be changing.

One senior attorney who has left Jones Day said he was taken aback to see an alumni email sent by the firm appear in his inbox over the summer featuring firm trivia and Q&As with retired lawyers.

The email would be standard at many other major law firms that keep close ties with their alumni, but Jones Day has historically not kept in touch with its former lawyers, the lawyer said.

When he opened the email, the lawyer said, it was the first time he’d seen Jones Day acknowledge alumni even existed. Some of his friends had left the firm and then wanted to go back, but weren’t allowed, he said.

The email, with the title “One Connection,” highlighted how the firm’s summer associate program had gone virtual during the pandemic and said the firm had celebrated Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the emancipation of slaves in the US.

“I thought it was one of the funnier damn things I ever read,” the alum said. “I got a good chuckle and deleted it.”

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