Did This Law Firm Discriminate Against Black Attorneys?

Plus, what constitutes sexual harassment, what you need to know before testing applicants for drugs and more discrimination case law here.

UPDATE: U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton dismissed Yolanda Young's lawsuit against Covington & Burling LLP, a former staff attorney who alleged that various incidents of racial discrimination derailed her career, after Young and her attorney failed to appear for a court hearing.

Bob Gregg, partner in Boardman Law Firm, shares his roundup of diversity-related legal issues. He can be reached at rgregg@boardmanlawfirm.com.


Law firm sued for segregating Black attorneys. In Young v. Covington & Burling LLP (D.C., DC, 2010), the court found sufficient grounds for trial on a staff attorney's Title VII adverse-impact case. The case alleged that a Washington, D.C., law firm predominantly relegated Black attorneys to staff-attorney positions, which paid less and were ineligible for partnership. And in order to get these lower-level positions, Black candidates had to have graduated from more prestigious law schools with better grades than white candidates who were hired for associate (partner track) positions. Also, those who were white and hired as staff attorneys received special mentoring attention and were provided opportunities to transfer to associate positions. The law firm has denied the allegations.


When it's over, it should be over. A male restaurant waiter filed a valid claim for sexual harassment, based on his female manager's post-breakup continuing romantic advances. Although the manager was told that the relationship was over and further attention was unwelcome, she continued advances, including repeated grabbing and touching. In Turner v. The Saloon Ltd. (7th Cir., 2010), the court found that while these same attentions may once have been mutually welcome, once the consensual relationship ends, the unwelcome attention fits the definition of sexual harassment.

Motherhood does not equate to sex discrimination. A regional sales manager objected to travel requirements because she was the mother of two young children, and her company did not decrease her travel requirements. She subsequently sued for sex discrimination. But in Feinerman v. T-Mobile USA (S.D., NY, 2010), the court dismissed the case and found no gender discrimination. A mother has no more protection than a father.  As long as a company uniformly imposes travel requirements, there is no discrimination.


No drug testing prior to employment offer. The ADA allows medical examinations (including drug tests) only after an offer of employment, though an offer can be made conditional upon "passing" the medical evaluation. In Harrison v. Benchmark Electronics (11th Cir., 2010), however, a job applicant was sent for a drug test prior to an offer letter. The applicant tested positive for a prescription drug and was not hired. The court found this a violation of the ADA due to the timing of the test. There was also evidence that rejecting the applicant for a drug prescribed for a medical condition could be discrimination based on a perceived disability.

Bank's perceptions about attempted suicide violate ADA.A bank's assistant vice president who had an emotional disorder attempted suicide. Although he recovered, underwent therapy and was medically cleared to return to work, his employer refused to let him come back and discharged him. The reason: His actions and condition could affect the bank's reputation and hurt business. But in the subsequent ADA case, Lizotte v. Dacotah Bank, et al. (D. N.D., 2010), the court found for the plaintiff; there was no evidence to support the bank's position. It did not seek additional information from the doctor to establish any ground for concern; there was no evidence that any accounts or goodwill were lost due to the vice president's incident. The court ruled that the ADA prohibits people being discharged "due to accumulated myths, fears and stereotypes."

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