We’ve all heard about the pay inequities between men and women. We’ve heard about women earning 25% less than men for the same work and we’ve heard of women who back down too easily when asking for a raise or promotion for themselves. Well, Francine Friedman Griesing is not one of them.
A former female shareholder in Greenberg Traurig’s Philadelphia office, Griesing has sued the firm for gender discrimination. Griesing worked at the firm from April 2007 through January 2010 and now has her own firm, Griesing Law.
While Griesing is currently the only member of the class, her suit alleges that the class could potentially include as many as 215 current and former female employees of GT. They are seeking $200 million in damages.
GT allegedly has three shareholder levels: the 300 level; the 500 level; and the 1,000 level. The 1,000 level is the most highly compensated and, allegedly, less than 10% of it is comprised of women. The 1,000 shareholders get exclusive access to the firm’s retreats, which allows them to network and refer business, according to Griesing. The 1,000 level shareholders allegedly earn $1 million per year more than other shareholders.
Most new shareholders are placed in the 300 level or 500 level and are required to remain in the 500 level for a certain period of time before becoming eligible for the 1,000 level. Griesing was hired at the 300 level where, allegedly, all but one of the female shareholders were placed. According to the complaint, men with similar or lesser qualifications were hired at the 500 level.
Griesing also alleges that the compensation system lacked sufficient standards, quality controls, implementation metrics, transparency, and oversight. In the complaint, she alleges that “By assigning women to lower levels and delaying their promotion, the firm denies its female shareholders compensation and opportunities to which they are otherwise entitled.”
Griesing does allege that the firm has one exception in its general practice of denying women advancement opportunities. She alleges that “GT prioritizes, pays, and promotes women who have intimate relationships with firm leaders or who acquiesce to socialized stereotypes.”
Griesing claims she brought in more than $4 million in timekeeper revenues and origination during her time at the firm. She was allegedly told that if she earned $600,000 in originations, she would receive a bonus of $108,000 and that the bonus would increase as the originations increased. Griesing alleges that she brought in double that in originations but that her bonus was only $115,000 in 2008.
When Griesing raised concerns about her pay, it was allegedly agreed that she was owed a bigger bonus, but that the firm had allegedly decided instead to make room for larger bonuses to male shareholders who had “families to support”. Then she was allegedly told that she was “lucky to have a job.”
Griesing went up the ranks in the firm until she finally reached the CEO, Richard Rosenbaum, who allegedly told her that he would not investigate her case unless she agreed to be “happy” at the firm. It was then that Griesing filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
At a subsequent meeting, Rosenbaum allegedly told Griesing that she needed to leave the firm if she was going to persist in questioning her compensation. The firm then allegedly stopped assigning Griesing work and urged her principal associate to work for another shareholder.
On July 28, after an investigation, the EEOC determined that Griesing had allegdly been paid $50,000 less than her nearest male counterpart; that women in the firm, on average, were allegedly compensated less than men; and that men were allegedly more likely to be hired above the 300 level. David Sanford, representing Griesing in this lawsuit, said it is extremely rare for the EEOC to find “reasonable cause” to pursue a case. Only 3.8% of single-plaintiff and class cases combined receive that distinction.
Hilarie Bass, GT’s executive committee member, has said in a statement that Griesing’s lawsuit gives a false impression of GT and its work environment. Bass insists that all of the attorneys at the firm are paid based on merit and that the lawsuit “is nothing more than a financially motivated publicity stunt without merit, backed by neither fact nor law.” She also claims that the lawsuit misrepresents the EEOC investigation, which she says included only a small number of women in one of the firm’s offices, and of which Griesing was the only one to complain. She goes on to say that the firm has every intention of fighting the lawsuit and fully expects to prevail.