by Patricia Schaeffer, Vice President-Regulatory Affairs

On October 5, 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that Sidley Austin, one of the nation’s largest law firms, will pay $27.5 million to 32 former partners to settle the age discrimination lawsuit it brought against it. (EEOC v. Sidley Austin LLP, N.D. Illinois No. 05 C 0208)

The EEOC filed the lawsuit in 2005 alleging the law firm violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) when it stripped 32 partners of their partnership status in 1999 on account of their age. A major issue in the case was whether partners in the law firm were protected as employees under ADEA. The law firm initially claimed the partners were “owners” and not “employees” subject to ADEA protections. The consent decree states that “Sidley agrees that each person for whom EEOC has sought relief in this matter was an employee with[in] the meaning of the ADEA.”

EEOC General Counsel Ronald S. Cooper stated the Sidley Austin case has been closely followed by law firms, as well as by professional services providers generally.

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