P atricia Russell Brown's substantial resume includes a chemical-engineering degree from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard, where she was an editor for a technology and law journal. She also co-chairs the intellectual-property section of the Women's Bar Association of Washington.
Now, Brown can add something else to her resume: plaintiff.
Brownis suing Dorsey & Whitney LLP in U.S. District Court in Washington, alleging racial discrimination and seeking $10 million in damages. Brown alleges that she was not considered for partner after she was promised she would be when she arrived as a lateral transfer from the Venable LLP law firm in 2000.
Brown said the reason she didn't get the offer is that she is black and that no African American has ever ascended to partner at Dorsey & Whitney through the ranks of associate. The 750-lawyer, 22-office international law firm, whose most famous partner is former vice president Walter F. Mondale, has only three black partners, the suit says.
The three black lawyers, all men, joined Dorsey as partners after they achieved prominence elsewhere, the lawsuit says. For example, Zachary W. Carter joined the firm as partner after serving as a U.S. attorney and magistrate judge in New York.
Firm officials declined to comment on the specifics of the suit, but they denied that Brown was mistreated.
"I believe we treat all of our employees well and I believe we treated Ms. Brown well," said Richard E. Powers Jr., managing partner of Dorsey's District office.
Brown, who graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, has retained Jimmy A. Bell, the pugnacious civil rights attorney in Upper Marlboro.
"My client is a double-Ivy League graduate, a JAG [judge advocate general] lawyer and daughter of a one-star U.S. Air Force general," Bell said. "She is an all-American, a real-life 'Cosby Show' lawyer, married to a medical doctor. If they treat her this way, imagine how they treat other people."
To support her allegation of discrimination, she alleges that partner Pamela M. Deese pointed a finger in her face and said, "You work for me." Distressed, Brown said she turned to one of the firm's black partners, Cornell Leverette Moore, a Minneapolis lawyer who once was part owner of the Minnesota Twins.
Brown says she told Moore about what Deese said. She alleges that Moore replied that it sounded as if Deese was trying to establish a "plantation" and that Deese probably thought Brown was one of her "field Negroes," Brown's lawsuit alleges.
Deese declined to comment.
Hired to manage Dorsey's trademark prosecution office, Brown alleges she found the files in disarray and was not given adequate resources to put them into shape.
"I got there and it was a mess," Brown said. "It was total chaos. As soon as I got it cleaned up, the largest client was transferred."
When she asked why the largest client case was transferred to the New York office, she said, Alan I. Baron, who then was managing partner, said a client demanded it because she was incompetent. She said she then called the client, who denied having said that.
Thereafter, Brown said she was asked to see a psychiatrist and take psychiatric tests, something she said no white employees were asked to do.
Her subsequent performance evaluation was poor and included the story about the big client case being moved because she was incompetent. She wrote a detailed response, including a letter from the client refuting the incompetence assertion.
Last year, she was told she wouldn't be considered for partner. She left in October. Brown says her career has been ruined.
"I will probably never work in a law firm again," Brown said. "At this point, I should be partner. I hope they'll come clean -- and tell the truth."
While Dorsey officials declined to comment, the firm's Web site says that Dorsey is committed to diversity. There is no word on what those goals are and whether three black partners out of 750 lawyers is considered sufficient.
The Web site does say that meeting diversity goals is the responsibility of office heads, such as Baron. "These individuals are dedicated to the mission of assuring that each employee has an equal opportunity to succeed and feels at home and part of the firm community," the Web site says.
Speaking of intellectual property, Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt PC of Alexandria claims the title of obtaining the most U.S. patents in a year. The firm says it is a 12-year streak. Oblon, one of the biggest intellectual-property firms in the country, says it obtained 3,462 patents in 2002.
Things are expanding and contracting for Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley LLP.
Philadelphia-based Blank Rome has gobbled up D.C.'s 42-lawyer Dyer Ellis & Joseph PC, which specializes in maritime, defense, energy, financial services, health care, manufacturing and technology law. Maritime was a big lure for Blank Rome, which previously did not have a marine transportation practice.
While adding lawyers, Blank Rome also is dropping lawyers, at least in its name. From now on, the firm that everyone calls Blank Rome will be just that. Comisky & McCauley have been cut from the firm's official name. A conference room has been named for Marvin Comisky.
Blank Rome has about 400 lawyers, 30 of whom are in Washington, including Mark A. Holman, who just returned to the firm after spending a year working with Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge as deputy assistant to the president.
Carl M. Buchholz, who was counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign in Pennsylvania, also recently left Ridge's office in Washington to return to Blank Rome's headquarters in Philadelphia. Buchholz has the title of executive partner, which sources said is sort of a holding position as he is groomed for "future leadership."
It's a Trend
The Baltimore firm Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver says Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is the firm's second alumnus to be elected governor of Maryland. The first? Gov. Albert C. Ritchie, an anti-New Deal, states-rights Democrat who co-founded the firm 100 years ago. Ritchie served four terms beginning in 1920.
Ehrlich joined the firm in its 80th year and was in the litigation department for 12 years before he entered Congress in 1995 from Maryland's second district.
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