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Suit settled over firm's 'macho culture' retaliation for FMLA leave

An interesting lawsuit by a former associate attorney against a Boston law firm was just settled immediately before the dispute went to trial. The former associate, who was fired in Dec. 2008, sued the law firm claiming that his firing was in retaliation for taking family leave the firm leadership didn't think was "macho" enough.

The plaintiff was first hired as a corporate attorney for the firm in 2006. After his second child was born, the wrongful termination complaint states, the attorney took paid paternity leave and, because his wife had a mental illness, he also took leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for his wife and children. Four months after doing so, he was fired.

"[T]he culture for men at [the law firm]," the complaint reads, "is a 'macho' one which praises and encourages male associates and partners to fulfill the stereotypical male role of ceding family responsibilities to women."

What he was seeking in the lawsuit, which was filed in Dec. 2010, was reimbursement for back pay, compensation for "front pay" (the difference between what he can earn now and what he would be earning if he hadn't been fired), damages for his emotional distress, reimbursement for attorneys' fees and court cost, and punitive damages against the law firm.

He also asked the court to order the law firm "to institute and carry out policies, practices, and programs that eradicate unlawful stereotyping of male care-givers."

In October of last year, the firm filed a motion for summary judgment, asking to court to find that the man had no basis for a lawsuit. It said the man's firing had nothing to do with retaliation, but was for three legitimate reasons: his failure to meet his quota of billable hours, his "fair" score on an employee evaluation, and his "personal issues."

The federal judge rejected the firm's motion, notably pointing out that "a reasonable jury could find that the ["personal issues"] comment was directed at [the plaintiff's] recent need to take FMLA leave."

The terms of the settlement are confidential. The fact that a settlement was reached, however, was praised by the judge: "Counsel are to be commended," he wrote. "This could have been a lengthy trial. It would cost your clients a considerable amount of money. It's always appropriate for parties to reach a settlement. It was a job well done."

Source: The American Lawyer, "Dechert and Former Associate Settle 'Macho Culture' Retaliation Case," Sheri Qualters, Feb. 11, 2013

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