Greenberg Traurig, one of South Florida’s largest law firms, has been accused of gender discrimination in a $200 million class-action lawsuit in federal court filed by a former female shareholder in its Philadelphia office.
Francine Friedman Griesing worked at the firm as a shareholder from April 2007 to January 2010 and claims in her lawsuit filed on behalf of current and former female shareholders that Greenberg pays women less, promotes them at lower rates than men and virtually freezes them out from high-level managerial positions.
She asserts that she was fired from the firm after she complained numerous times about pay inequity and the male dominated partnership structure.
Prior to filing this suit, Griesing says she filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC spent three years investigating her complaint against Greenberg Traurig and concluded in June 2012 that there is “reasonable cause" to support class-wide claims of gender discrimination in compensation; that women are treated less favorably in the terms of their employment; and that there is support of an allegation of retaliation, she asserts in her lawsuit.
“Such a finding is extremely rare,” says David W. Sanford of Sanford Heisler, Griesing’s attorney.
“The EEOC found reasonable cause in only 3.8 percent of all investigations, including both individual and class charges.”
Heisler, whose firm won the largest jury award in the U.S. in a gender discrimination employment class action against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., said he has spent the last few months trying to resolve the case before filing suit.
EEOC refused comment on what it calls a “private matter”
Hilarie Bass, one of two women on Greenberg’s 12-member executive committee, responded to the lawsuit Monday saying it is without merit. Bass said the firm filed a petition in federal court in Philadelphia Monday to force Griesing’s complaint to arbitration.
“The format of the lawsuit reflects an effort to extort money from us,” Bass said. “Our shareholder agreement has an arbitration clause that she is well aware of and instead she chose to file a class action in federal court.” Bass said even if the case ends up in court, she believes it will be an individual lawsuit rather than a class action.
Griesing is alleging about $1 million in back pay and damages that she is owed. Her attorney said total damages could exceed $200 million if all women at the firm during her tenure are approved by the court as members of a class.
Although Greenberg calls Miami home, the lawsuit was filed in New York where CEO Richard Rosenbaum has his offices. In her lawsuit, Griesing said Greenberg Traurig’s closed compensation system and “good old boy” culture allows gender discrimination to thrive and flourish.
She asserts that, “One man, CEO Richard Rosenbaum, makes all promotion and compensation decisions for each and every GT shareholder nationwide.”
In the Philadelphia office, Griesing claims Rosenbaum makes decisions with input from Michael Lehr. The suit alleges that Lehr, regional operating shareholder in charge of Philadelphia, told Griesing at one point that only “tall, male and Jewish GT lawyers generate business” and that there is “no formula” for compensation and that it is entirely subjective, commenting that female shareholders are “lucky” to get paid as much as they do.