A $200 million lawsuit filed against a law firm closely associated with President Donald Trump alleges that the firm fostered a “fraternity culture” featuring heavy drinking, an overbearing male leader, and sexism that was often so absurd it reads like something out of a gross-out comedy from the 1980s.
The suit against Jones Day, a 2,500 lawyer firm that played a significant role in placing Trump in the White House — the Trump campaign paid Jones Day $3.3 million in legal fees according to a 2017 report — alleges a culture where women attorneys were denied promotions despite exemplary work, excluded from mentoring opportunities afforded to male associates, asked to leave the firm after taking maternity leave, and subjected to cruel and sexist jokes by male colleagues.
Trump appointed numerous Jones Day lawyers to high-level positions within his administration, including Solicitor General Noel Francisco, former White House Counsel Don McGahn, and the two highest ranking attorneys in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Trump also appointed two former Jones Day partners to federal appellate judgeships.
At one event hosted by a Jones Day partner, the complaint alleges that a male summer associate (“summer associate” is the title typically given to highly paid law students who work at a firm during their summer vacation) pushed a female colleague into the partner’s swimming pool while the woman was wearing a white dress. According to the complaint, “the male summer associate who pushed her was applauded and high-fived by the Firm’s summer associate committee and leadership rather than reprimanded.”
In another incident, a partner allegedly “demanded that three female summer associates sing and dance to a Care Bears song (an event captured on video).” These three summer associates were allegedly told that they must humiliate themselves in this way “to receive verbal offers to join the Firm as associates.”
During a limo ride to a firm event, male Jones Day lawyers allegedly played a game called “Fuck, Marry, Kill,” in which they “named coworkers from the office and proposed to whom they would do each of these things.” At the event itself, a male associate allegedly “called several of his female colleagues ‘cunts,’” yet the lawsuit claims that he remains employed by the firm.
One of the plaintiffs, a female attorney, was allegedly tasked with planning a women’s luncheon — which the complaint describes as “a dispiriting ritual in which the office’s female attorneys (which included no homegrown partners) sought to mentor each other.” To advertise to others that she was the one planning this luncheon, the complaint claims that “she was forced to display a 4-foot tall cardboard cutout of a lipstick tube in her office for months.”
Senior Jones Day lawyers also reportedly described another plaintiff as “eye candy” to summer associates and asked “in partner review meetings whether she was ‘fun’ or too ‘intense.'”
While the complaint alleges that the firm hires roughly equal numbers of male and female associates, “male partners outnumber female partners three to one, according to the 2018 Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Survey.”
The plaintiffs in this case ask a federal court to certify a class action on behalf of “all female attorneys who are, have been, or will be employed by the Firm in the United States during the applicable liability period until the date of judgment.” Nevertheless, much of the complaint focuses on the experiences of six plaintiffs who allege that they were denied opportunities because they are women — or much worse.
One plaintiff, for example, is a Harvard Law School graduate that a Jones Day partner argued was a “superstar” in a court filing. Nevertheless, she alleges that the firm froze her salary — a punitive measure — after she took maternity leave for her first pregnancy. She later became pregnant again and took a second period of maternity leave — and when she returned she allegedly was told that she “should look for other opportunities outside the Firm.”
A second plaintiff alleges similar discrimination, claiming that many partners would not assign work to her after her first maternity leave, and that after she returned from a second maternity leave she “was told during her annual evaluation that her career at Jones Day was over and she needed to find a new job within six months.”
ThinkProgress emailed Jones Day to request a comment on this lawsuit. As of this writing, we have not received a response to that request.
Regardless of how this lawsuit fares in the courts, it could potentially have the ironic outcome of fostering the “fraternity culture” it criticizes. Whatever else it may be, Jones Day is a high-paying, elite law firm that typically hires lawyers who may have plenty of other job opportunities — including opportunities at similarly elite firms. As word of this lawsuit gets out, high-performing women law students — or, for that matter, men who don’t want to work in an environment in which women are mistreated — are likely to forego applying to work at Jones Day.
Meanwhile, the sort of Trumpian men who revel in a sexist, frat boy culture could find Jones Day more attractive.