Ex-Kirkland Aide Says Staff Cuts Were Smokescreen For Bias

By Braden Campbell
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Law360 (August 14, 2020, 3:05 PM EDT) -- A longtime Kirkland & Ellis LLP litigation support aide accused the firm of age and disability discrimination in California state court Friday, alleging the legal giant fired her under the guise of a staff reduction last year months after she returned to work following brain surgery.

Nancy Lynn Perkins' amended complaint alleges the firm not only made zero effort to accommodate her disability during her recovery, but also targeted her in a bogus restructuring aimed at replacing its litigation support staffers with younger, cheaper workers.

"This was a sham process from day one," Perkins alleged.

Perkins said the firm fired her last summer following a "long and storied career" that saw her earn glowing evaluations from attorneys she aided.

Perkins joined the firm in late 1990 as a legal assistant in its Los Angeles office, a position that required her to work grueling hours — allegedly often for 24 straight hours or more and frequently for "months on end" without a day off — to help Kirkland attorneys prep cases for trial. She proved adept at acclimating to new technologies during her nearly 30-year tenure at Kirkland, earning a mention in a 2005 American Lawyer article detailing how firm attorneys won a $560 million verdict, according to the complaint. But her performance could not save her from the chopping block, Perkins said.

In October 2018, Perkins told her boss that she would need to take medical leave to repair a cerebral spinal fluid leak, according to the complaint. She underwent surgery the following February and returned to work in April. Shortly after, the firm said it planned to restructure her department and that she would need to reapply for her job.

"Kirkland & Ellis then proceeded to implement a sham process to disqualify Ms. Perkins from any future work at the firm," she alleged.

As part of this process, the firm had Perkins apply and undergo a battery of tests and interviews, without once asking her if she required an accommodation for her medical condition, she alleged. That August, the firm told her she would not be hired to fill one of the new openings, which closely mirrored her then-job, she said. She later learned that she was ostensibly denied a job because she had refused or failed to complete certain training, which she disputes.

All of the workers Kirkland let go were over 55 years old, Perkins added. What's more, the firm ultimately hired more people into the department than it let go, she alleged.

"This was not a reduction in force, it was a growth in force," Perkins said.

The filing, which updates an initial complaint filed last month, includes claims of age and disability discrimination, retaliation, failure to accommodate a disability, and wrongful termination. Perkins seeks damages including fines and front and back pay.

Perkins' attorney, Robert Matz, said his client "did all she could" to avoid suing her longtime employer, including by seeking to mediate the dispute after filing a discrimination claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"It is my client's hope that, in light of the lawsuit, the firm will review its actions, and the impact it has had on Ms. Perkins and her prospects for future employment, and do the right thing by her," Matz said.  

 A Kirkland representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Perkins is represented by Robert Matz of Matz Law Group.

Counsel information for Kirkland was not available Friday.

The case is Nancy Lynn Perkins v. Kirkland & Ellis LLP, case number 20STCV25461, in the Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles.

--Editing by Bruce Goldman.

Update: This story has been updated with comment from Perkins' attorney. 

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