Steptoe accused of pay bias in class action by female contract lawyer promoted to associate

Law Firms



Updated: A contract lawyer who was promoted to associate at Steptoe & Johnson claims in a pay-bias lawsuit that she made less money than male associates with similar experience.

The proposed class action by lawyer Ji-In Houck says she is aware of other female attorneys at the firm who were also paid less than men, report the Recorder (sub. req.) and Courthouse News Service.

Houck’s suit (PDF) says she was paid less than male associates who began practicing law in 2011, the year she received her law license. Houck says the pay discrimination occurred while she was working as a contract lawyer doing associate work, and after she was promoted to associate.

“Not only are Steptoe’s male attorneys paid more (in base salary and in bonuses),” the suit says, “they are
routinely given higher profile work assignments, and are recognized for their accomplishments, while female attorneys are not. Additionally, Steptoe advances the careers of its male attorneys more quickly than its female attorneys.”

The law firm says Houck’s allegations are without merit.

Houck says she was paid $85,000 when she began working in Los Angeles at the firm’s Century City office as a contract lawyer in 2013. Before she joined the firm, Houck said she had worked elsewhere as a litigation associate for two years.

Houck claims she did the same work at Steptoe as associates, yet her contract pay was almost half the amount paid to associates admitted to the bar in 2011, the suit says.

After receiving one raise, Houck was promoted in June 2014 to associate and paid $130,000. Male associates with the same number of years of experience were paid $175,000, the suit says. Though her pay was boosted to $160,000 the next year, her male counterparts were making $210,000, the suit says.

The firm gave raised Houck’s pay to $200,000 in March 2016, retroactive to January, but she left Steptoe that same month.

Houck says she received ratings of “exceptional” and “excellence” throughout her career at Steptoe.

Steptoe & Johnson issued this statement: “Steptoe is a strong supporter of women lawyers and professionals. Women serve on the firm’s executive committee and the nominating committee; two of the four departments are headed by women; the firm’s general counsel is a woman; the immediate past chair of the associates committee was a woman; and half of the partners on the compensation committee are women, including the co-chair. In January 2016, the firm promoted a new partner class that was 50 percent female, and in January 2017, the new partner class was 80 percent female.

“The allegations of associate pay discrimination in this lawsuit by a former junior associate who was hired as a contract attorney and stayed with the firm for less than three years are completely without merit, and we will vigorously defend ourselves against such baseless claims.”

Updated at 11:54 a.m. to correct spelling of Houck in seventh graf.

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