A federal judge ruled yesterday that part, but not all, of former staff attorney Yolanda Young's race discrimination suit against Covington & Burling may move forward.
In a 25-page opinion, Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia shot down on procedural grounds Young's allegation that the firm's policy of not promoting staff attorneys to associate was discriminatory. Young had argued that by not promoting staff attorneys, whom she claims are disproportionately black, the firm had instituted a discriminatory policy.
Walton wrote that because Young had failed to file a claim against the firm’s non-promotion policy, which was implemented in 2006, until 2008, she had missed her window.
But Walton ruled to allow Young to go forward with her claim that the firm’s job-assignment policy is discriminatory. Young has argued that the job-assignment policy is discriminatory because it has a disparate impact on black staff attorneys.
Noting that at this stage of the case, the court is required to take a plaintiff’s allegations at face value, Walton determined that the allegation was not barred by the statute of limitations.
Walton drew a distinction between the two claims based on the recurrent nature of the firm’s alleged actions. Walton wrote that the non-promotion policy was a one-time incident, and covered by the statute of limitations. The job-assignment policy was not, Walton determined, because of the cyclical nature of the firm’s annual performance evaluations, which it uses to allocate assignments. Each evaluation restarted the timeframe for potential misconduct, and thus, for filing a claim, Walton wrote.
“Again at this stage of the case, the benefit of all reasonable inferences must be construed in favor of the plaintiff and because it is at least plausible, even if only minimally, that Covington utilized discriminatory criteria as part of its annual performance evaluations of its attorneys, the plaintiff is entitled to benefit of that doubt,” Walton wrote in the opinion.
Latif Doman, a name partner at Washington-based Doman Davis who is representing Young, said that while he was disappointed to see the non-promotion policy claim dismissed, he was pleased that Walton allowed the second claim to move forward.
“My client is pleased to be able to pursue the disparate impact claim because it is not every day that a court allows that kind of claim to move forward,” Doman said. “As we move forward with discovery, it will be clear that African-American staff attorneys are put through a similar system as white associates but are not being judged in the same manner.”
Covington is being represented by Michele Roberts, a partner at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. Roberts did not immediately return calls for comment.
In a statement, Covington said, "We are pleased that the court has dismissed certain of plaintiff's claims, and we expect to move for summary judgment on the remaining claims in due course."