Kerri L. Campbell, an attorney at the prestigious Chadbourne & Parke law firm, generated nearly $4 million in revenue for the firm in client fees and legal proceedings. This placed her among the firm’s leading earners, and yet, Campbell received a paycheck that was two or three times less than that of her male colleagues.
Recently, women in several different fields have begun pushing back on wage inequality and general inequality in how they are treated in comparison to male counterparts. Some successes include the Women’s U.S. Hockey Team and Irish Women’s Soccer.
In the world of law, however, it seems as though the grain is harder to break. Campbell caught attention within her firm by bringing her pay inequity to the firm’s attention, insisting that her level of revenue and expertise, along with those of other women in the firm, deserved the kind of fair compensation that the men in the firm received.
The system in which merits are earned at the firm is, as The New York Times explains in Campbell’s words, “a five-man management committee at the firm arbitrarily awards male partners more points, which translate into higher dollar compensation, than they do to women.”
Chadbourne associates voted to terminate Campbell, and in addition to this unusual move for a law firm, now has reduced her pay to that of an entry-level associate, with no benefits, until her termination deadline in August.
Campbell has not found new work, and she continues to work at Chadbourne, because “as a mother of a blended family of nine children, I can’t afford not to.”
After being told that she would be terminated, Campbell sued the firm in federal court, requesting a hefty $100 million on behalf of herself and other female partners who, as she puts it, “receive less compensation than male partners even when they bring in more client revenue.”
Campbell notes that in any law firm, changes are not made easily, as many of such work environments are seemingly set in stone in tradition and historically maintained proceedings.
“I was looking for a solid firm with a national footprint and strong litigation support,” Campbell said. “It was a very paternalistic culture, which strongly discourages asking questions, raising concerns and proposing any change in the way things have always been done.”
In January and February 2015, Campbell took her case to the managing partner and requested a substantial point increase because, as she mentioned, “colleagues with similar client revenue were receiving twice the number of points.”
The response she received was one that asserted that her 2014 revenue was unsupported evidence. In a chain reaction, after she spoke up, her litigation support dwindled, and her client relationships suffered in response.
The firm’s managing partner, Andrew A. Giaccia, maintains that her practice no longer fit the firm’s goals and that their decision has nothing to do with her requests for pay equity.
Campbell, a top-earning, decorated attorney now remains at Chadbourne & Parke until the looming deadline of her termination arrives. Not every story of women challenging archaic gender pay values ends with success, unfortunately.
However, the exposure of the fear evoked through her requests, even within huge organizations such as this one, points to something deeper. A fear of change seems to overtake the acknowledgement of what is right, and Campbell has taken the brunt of this.
We can hope that in the near future, individual women will be able to stop fighting the battles that the country needs to acknowledge. Perhaps those defending the law day to day, like Campbell, will also be the ones to set the precedent needed to finally solidify into law an equality that truly provides justice for all.
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