By: Vivia Chen
I have several gut reactions to the lawsuit filed against Morrison & Foerster by three of its female associates in California. (They accused the firm of discriminating against mothers and pregnant women by denying them career advancement opportunities and paying them less than their colleagues.)
First was my disbelief that a firm with a super-progressive reputation would be accused of being another Neanderthal institution. But once I absorbed the news, my reaction was meh. I mean, is it really so unusual that lawyer-moms face negative stereotypes and that the mommy track is a dead end?
Those reactions don’t cancel each other out. You can be an über cool firm with “woke” family policies and still have individuals within the firm who question a woman’s commitment to work after she becomes a parent. But the question is whether those individual prejudices prove systemic discrimination.
Reading the complaint, I can’t say it’s an easy case. (May I just say I find it frustrating to read a filing in which neither the plaintiffs nor the allegedly offending partners are named? There are probably strategic reasons for this, but I find it troubling.)
But here’s what I find baffling: Why is MoFo of all the fair firms in the land getting slammed as a terrible place for women? Frankly, I can think of far worse places. According to its current chair Larren Nashelsky, it’s ahead of the curve. He said women make up 25 percent of the executive committee and 33 percent of the compensation committee and 25 percent of all partners—though its female equity partner rank is below 20 percent.
“MoFo has been brazenly made a target for a real problem in the industry—the career challenges that parents face,” said former MoFo chair Keith Wetmore, who’s now a managing director at Major, Lindsey & Africa. “I think there are easier targets.”
Wetmore said that MoFo made a genuine effort to be progressive, adding: “During my 12 years as chair, we made at least 15 women partners while they were part time.”
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