Yelenick (Courtesy)
Yelenick (Courtesy)

Ex-Chadbourne Partner of 35 Years Decries Firm’s ‘Origination Inheritance’ System

Add Mary Yelenick, a longtime Chadbourne & Parke partner and onetime head of the product liability group, to the list of women who say the “male-dominated culture” of the firm’s management committee has led to decades of systematic discrimination against female attorneys.

In a sworn declaration filed in Manhattan federal court, Yelenick took aim at Chadbourne’s “origination inheritance” system, claiming it allows retiring male partners to pass their origination credit to “favored male successors” instead of women.

She cited an example: In 2016, Marc Alpert, a management committee member and partner, departed the firm to become general counsel at Loews Corporation. According to Yelenick, two female partners, one of them a senior partner, had done significant work for his two biggest clients, but Alpert picked two male partners to take the origination credit, which translates to a significant compensation bump. 

“These men did nothing to merit this result,” Yelenick wrote in her declaration. “They were simply the designated favorites of a retiring male partner who had himself inherited origination status from other men. The cycle continues.”

Alpert is a named defendant in the suit but the other partners’ names were all redacted from the court documents.

Yelenick requested last month to join as a plaintiff in the the gender discrimination suit against Chadbourne, and filed her declaration in support of a motion to certify the case as a collective action.

Kerrie Campbell, who is still a partner at the firm, is the original plaintiff that filed the case in August alleging she was underpaid $2.7 million over the course of two years. Jaroslawa Johnson, a former partner who managed the firm’s now-defunct Kiev office, joined the suit in the fall.

Although Yelenick did not make any public comments about the suit prior to joining, her signature had been conspicuously absent from a letter that a group of female partners wrote to plaintiffs’ counsel David Sanford in September that denounced the discrimination suit. Besides Campbell who filed the suit, Yelenick was the only other female partner who did not sign. 

In her declaration, Yelenick said she repeatedly raised her gender equity concerns with the firm’s leadership, but was either ignored or “at best” given lip service.

“I reluctantly and sadly came to the conclusion that the management committee would not take these issues seriously unless and until some formal legal action was taken,” she wrote.

The firm released a statement that took issue with Yelenick’s declaration, and accused her of exaggerating her contributions at the firm.

Below, the statement in its entirety:

Mary Yelenick’s sworn declaration is filled with many errors. For example, she greatly overstates her contribution for originating relationships.

Ms. Yelenick received shared billing and/or responsible credit for client relationships that other partners and attorneys, in near entirety, won and developed without her involvement. Despite having been with the Firm for many years, Ms. Yelenick completely distorts the facts surrounding how client relationships are shared and transitioned. She reaped the rewards of the Firm’s process in the years when she was among the more highly compensated partners in the Firm, and in other years, her compensation reflected less significant contributions. But in every year, her compensation always reflected her contributions, and never her gender.

The cause of gender equality is not advanced by erroneous, self-serving, and baseless allegations used to support a lawsuit that seeks unjust economic reward for decisions made on the merits, having nothing to do with gender.

Much of Yelenick’s declaration repeats accusations that Campbell and Johnson put forth: She said all decisions about partner pay are made with little transparency by Chadbourne’s management committee, which was entirely male in its composition until the summer of 2016. Yelenick also said she was repeatedly underpaid by the firm in comparison to her male colleagues. She said she witnessed much of the same happen to other women over the course of her 35-year tenure.

“I have repeatedly witnessed female senior associates passed over for promotion to the partnership in favor of less qualified and less experienced male associates,” Yelenick wrote. “I know of numerous female associates and partners who have left the firm because they were deeply dissatisfied with what they viewed as a lack of promotional opportunities and fair compensation for women.”

One former Chadbourne partner who previously spoke to Big Law Business on the condition of anonymity said she left the firm in large part because she felt underpaid, though she said she left on good terms and did not plan to join the litigation. 

Yelenick, who retired at the end of December 2016, now serves as Of Counsel to the firm. She joined Chadbourne as an associate in New York in 1981 and was promoted to partner in 1996. She has represented such clients as LG, Miele, Jim Beam and Clarins in products liability cases.

Note: Updated with a statement from Chadbourne and a link to, and embed of, Yelenick’s declaration via Bloomberg Law.  

DECLARATION OF MARY YELENICK

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