The Life

September 11, 2008 4:27 PM

Letter to the Editor: Some 'Family-Friendly' Firms...Aren't

Posted by Ed Shanahan

Dear Editor,

As an employment practitioner in Boston, I read the article by Rachel Breitman in The Am Law Daily about the Yale student group naming Mintz Levin of Boston as a "family-friendly" firm. I became immediately concerned that such a distinction had been bestowed on the firm. 

Any firm that receives the "family-friendly" rating should have a cleaner record than Mintz, which has been sued twice for discriminating against female associates who have children.

In the first action, Gallina v. Mintz Levin, an associate won more than half a million dollars (with a potential for an even higher figure after appeal). The case put the firm on notice that it had engaged in discriminatory practices against women with children.

Apparently, Mintz did not learn its lesson, because a current associate, Kamee Verdrager, sued them in 2007, for the same family-unfriendly practices.

Among Verdrager's claims: a partner in the Boston employment law section, penalized this nursing mother, for insufficient "face time" (she left the office at 5:30 p.m. after a full day of work). This partner then selectively enforced his "face time" rule, and favored a male associate with whom he spent two hours at the gym during the business day.

The larger point here is that before bestowing these distinctions on firms, the groups honoring them should do better background checks. Otherwise, these surveys smack of being nothing more than a public relations contest won through manipulation by the firms' human resources departments. It diminishes the entire cause and undermines any good these groups are attempting to do.

Designating a law firm as "best" or "top" based exclusively on a review of a policy and firm-controlled submissions ignores that: 1) Policies are only valuable if those who enforce them do not harbor prejudices the policies mean to combat; and 2) Firms can easily manipulate a beauty contest. Verdrager tried repeatedly over the course of several years to utilize the very policies and procedures Mintz is being lauded for. The policies did not change the prejudices of her superiors.

Rebecca G. Pontikes
Davis, Pontikes, & Swartz

Editor's note: The contents of this letter prompted us to do two things: First, we contacted Yale Law Women to find out how carefully it vetted the firms it selected on the question of employment discrimination claims. The group said it did no research in this area, and relied on surveys filled out by the firms themselves to make its picks. Second, we searched state court dockets going back ten years to determine whether any of the other nine firms on the Yale women's list had been hit with claims akin to those lodged against Mintz. That search did not turn up any comparable suits.

Readers, what policies and/or benefits are a must for any firm to be deemed family-friendly? We welcome your comments.


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