A former associate filed a national class action against Steptoe & Johnson – which moved from its longtime Century City offices to downtown Los Angeles last year – claiming the law firm pays only lip service to gender equality, but has a male-dominated leadership that discriminates against women in pay and promotions.
“Despite paying lip service to diversity in its workforce, and even counseling the firm’s own clients on policies to avoid pay discrimination, defendant Steptoe & Johnson LLP … subjects its female attorneys to unequal pay,” Ji-In Lee Houck stated in her federal lawsuit.
Houck, of Los Angeles, said her starting pay at the firm as a contract attorney $85,000 a year, was barely half the $165,000 that male lawyers fresh out of law school were being paid —although she had come to Steptoe with two years of experience in civil litigation.
During her three years in Steptoe’s Century City office, her salary typically was 30 percent to 40 percent less than male lawyers with comparable experience, she said in her June 22 complaint.
When she left in March 2016, she was earning $200,000 a year compared to the $230,000 paid to men at her level. “The firm’s overall corporate culture and the uniform policies, procedures and practices inevitably result in systemic pay discrimination to the disadvantage of the firm’s female attorneys,” Houck said.
Steptoe said in a statement that it is “a strong supporter of women lawyers and professionals.”
Dismissing Houck as “a former junior associate who was hired as a contract attorney and stayed with the firm for less than three years,” the law firm called her allegations “completely without merit,” and said it would “vigorously defend ourselves against such baseless claims.”
Steptoe, based in Washington, D.C., has nine offices, six around the United States, plus offices in London, Beijing and Brussels. It has nearly 400 attorneys.
Houck’s class action is one of several lawsuits by female attorneys challenging major law firms over pay inequity in the past 18 months.
Houck is seeking class certification, back pay, raises and damages under the federal Equal Pay Act and the California Fair Pay Act, and asks the court to order Steptoe to launch programs to provide and foster equal opportunity for women lawyers and to establish a special task force in the law firm to carry out those programs.