Covington & Burling has filed a response to the complaint filed by staff attorney Yolanda Young alleging that the firm inflated its minority staff numbers by relegating African-Americans in staff attorney jobs with no chance of promotion in the associate rankings. Covington responded with a remarkably rough (and low) appraisal of not just Young but, in the view of some, the other staff attorneys at the firm.
Young filed a 37-page complaint in February accusing Covington of a hostile work environment for black lawyers, including maintaining a type of “Jim Crow” policy and having colleagues read out from a list of racial slurs, and that she had been called a “dog” and “monkey.” She says that after she complained, she was punished by being sent to an office with no minorities.
After graduating from Howard and then Georgetown, Young wrote a book and began doing commentary for National Public Radio, Washington Post, USA Today and other publications. She has a web, www.onbeingablacklawyer.com. She published a piece in the Huffington Post titled “Law Firm Segregation Reminiscent of Jim Crow,” blasting the firm.
Her complaint alleges that less than five percent of Covington’s partners, counsels, and associates are black and less than ten percent are minorities. However, roughly thirty percent of the staff attorneys are black and fifty percent are minorities.
In this letter, Covington blasts Young as a poor law student and even worse lawyer. The letter states that staff attorneys are hired under an entirely different and far less demanding set of standards because they primarily do document review. The firm states that such attorneys are sometime hired through temp agencies and were never treated as associates or potential partners. At $65,000, they are also paid far less than associates. The firm criticized Young as having just slightly above a C average at her law school and did not pass the bar for three years. The letter says that she has never actually practiced law and is portrayed as a glorified document reader (a view that might rub current staff attorneys the wrong way at the firm). Nevertheless, with bonuses and benefits, she received $170,000 (with a $70,000 base pay).
Young insists that “Covington can say what they like now, but they hired me.”
The case could raise an interesting question regarding such programs. The comparison to the associate and partnership tracks will likely be unavailing since it appears clear that these lawyers were informed that they were should not expect to be part of the firm partnership track. This may come down to past practices. If some lawyers were moved into the partnership or associate positions, it will be a bit more difficult for Covington. This is a case where the firm would be better served to have a hardcore bar on crossing over from one line of lawyers to another line.
Firms have increasingly opted for non-partnership tracks and temporary lines of employment for lawyers. This case could have a significant impact on such programs.
Of course, Covington partners are known to go above and beyond recently.
For a copy of the complaint, click here.
For the full story, click here.