CHARLESTON -- A former associate attorney at Huddleston Bolen is suing the law firm after she claims she was discriminated against because of her gender.
In May 2002, Erin E. Rich obtained her law degree and became employed as an associate attorney at Huddleston Bolen, where she was assigned to the litigation practice area, according to a complaint filed May 16 in Kanawha Circuit Court.
Rich claims soon after she began her employment, she received a letter from the firm setting forth the terms of her compensation as to salary and benefits and also advising her that the partnership track was a seven and one-half year track and that she would be considered for partnership in the firm at the end of the 2009 calendar year.
Early in Rich's career at Huddleston Bolen, the firm implemented a confidential evaluation system applicable to associate attorneys and partners in the law firm were to complete written evaluations of associate attorneys at the end of each year, according to the suit.
Rich claims when she was provided a copy of the evaluations on occasion, the evaluations indicated that she was on track to becoming partner based on her job performance.
At all year-end reviews conducted prior to 2010, Rich was told by Huddleston Bolen that she was performing well and doing a great job, according to the suit, and during the time that she was employed at the law firm, there were no complaints ever voiced to her about the quality of her work performance, nor was she ever reprimanded or disciplined regarding work performance.
Rich claims in 2008 she was off work on maternity leave for three months and returned to work in January 2009.
In 2009, Rich was informed that the firm's management committee would not recommend her for partnership because her "receivables were low," according to the suit.
Rich claims she explained that her receivables were low because she had been on maternity leave for three months and did not have the last quarter of 2008 receivables coming into the firm in early 2009.
While disappointed that the goal of partnership was not forthcoming at the end of 2009, Rich accepted the explanation given and accepted that her partnership would be delayed for one year, according to the suit.
Rich claims in 2009 she became pregnant with her second child and later learned that in the winter of 2009, a Huddleston Bolen partner, while meeting with the other partners asked, "'Does Erin [Rich] even want to be partner. She's pregnant again, isn't she?'"
While on maternity leave for the birth of her second child, Rich attended a mid-year firm meeting for the firm's associate lawyers and was advised that she would not be made an equity partner in the firm because she lacked trial experience, according to the suit.
Rich claims on Dec. 20, 2010, she was told that two other associates who had been hired one year after Rich were being recommended for equity partnership and that two other associates, one of which had been hired two years after Rich, would be recommended for non-equity partnership.
When Rich was told she would not be recommended because her "billable hours 'just weren't there'" and she lacked trial experience, she pointed out that she had been on maternity leave for three months and that after she returned, she was offered less work, which depressed her ability to generate billings on behalf of the firm, according to the suit.
Rich claims the defendant did not make litigation work available to her.
Soon after the Dec. 20, 2010, discussion, Rich realized that the defendant was applying a different standard for partnership to her and the only plausible, non-pretextual basis for that standard was the fact that she had been pregnant twice during her time at the firm, had taken leave of three months on each occasion of childbirth and had missed time from work due to the pregnancies and resulting responsibilities of motherhood, according to the suit.
Rich claims on Jan. 5, 2011, she was forced to resign from her employment because she could no longer work under the intolerable conditions of the defendant.
Rich is seeking compensatory damages. She is being represented by Kathryn Reed Bayless.
Tom Gilpin, chairman of Huddleston Bolen's management committee, commented on Rich's complaint.
"We take the allegation seriously, but we're confident it will be shown without merit," Gilpin said. "We strive to be fair to all who work at our firm, and we were with Miss Rich."
He noted a recent study that showed Huddleston Bolen's percentages of female employees and partners is ahead of the national average.
"As lawyers, we believe in the rule of law, and we're certain we'll be vindicated in this matter. We've been doing this since 1871, and we're committed to maintaining a diverse law firm."
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Tod J. Kaufman.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 12-C-908