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April 6, 2010 11:46 AM

Kelley Drye Fires Back in Age-Bias Case

Posted by Zach Lowe

Kelley Drye & Warren has fired back against a former partner who claims in a suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the law firm practices age discrimination by forcing partners to give up their equity when they turn 70, according to the New York Law Journal, an Am Law Daily sibling publication.

And the firm, represented by Proskauer Rose partner Bettina Plevan (who is handling a number of pending cases of alleged discrimination at law firms) is not holding back in claiming it did not discriminate against Eugene D'Ablemont, the 79-year-old former partner who initiated the action, the NYLJ says. 

The firm's main legal argument, according to the NYLJ: D'Ablemont was a partner at the time of his demotion, not an employee, and thus not eligible for the federal protections offered to employees under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The EEOC argues that despite his partner status, D'Ablemont should be considered an employee and therefore entitled to those protections. With that issue at the heart of the matter, the NYLJ writes, the Kelley Drye case carries broad implications for law firms, many of which are watching the case closely. The case is being heard in federal court in Manhattan.

Kelley Drye policy dictates that once partners turn 70, they must relinquish their equity and take on the status of "life partner," the NYLJ says. Life partners receive annual payments from the firm and are eligible for bonuses, the paper says. 

In trying to beat back D'Ablemont's charges, the NYLJ reports, Kelley Drye claims that he has only billed between 194 and 325 hours per year over the last five years and has violated his partnership agreement by receiving payments from an unnamed third party at the same time as he was asking Kelley Drye for a bonus. The firm also says it has given D'Ablemont and his family "tens of thousands of dollars" worth of free legal services, the NYLJ reports.

While on the topic of law firms and age discrimination, the NYLJ notes that Sidley Austin settled a massive age discrimination case in 2007 by agreeing to make a $27.5 million payment. The case centered on Sidley's move to demote 32 partners in their fifties and sixties to counsel status. Sidley did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, which did not touch on the merit of the EEOC's discrimination claims in that case, according to our prior reporting.

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