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Sex Discrimination Ruling Highlights Power Disparity Between Male, Female Partners

The recent 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Kirleis v. Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, in which a female partner was unable to sue for sex discrimination because she had voting rights and shared in firm profits, did little to change the law but much to bring to the fore the issue of parity between men and women lawyers.

Alyson Kirleis was asking the 3rd Circuit to revive her case, arguing that despite her titles of shareholder and director, she should be treated as an employee because her work is "subject to the control of" the firm's executive committee.

In the suit, Kirleis accused Dickie McCamey of paying women lawyers less than men, and alleged she was told by a male partner that a woman with children should relinquish her partnership and work only part-time. Kirleis, who has worked at the firm since 1988, also claimed she was told by another male partner that the role of women lawyers was to prepare lawsuits for trials that would be handled by men.

The 3rd Circuit's brief opinion denying Kirleis' arguments was non-precedential, but wouldn't have changed the law on discrimination suits by partners in professional organizations even if it had precedential value, employment lawyers said.

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