Perkins Coie and Morrison Foerster have hired lawyers to defend them in two lawsuits challenging certain diversity, equity and inclusion programs that the firms say help them attract diverse talent.
Perkins Coie, which is a defendant in a lawsuit filed in Dallas federal court, has hired Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann partner Jared Eisenberg as local counsel to a defense team of Chicago and Washington, D.C.-based lawyers from Jenner & Block. Morrison Foerster (which calls itself MoFo for short), retained a team of lawyers from Gibson Dunn’s New York, Washington, D.C., and Irvine, California offices to defend it in its lawsuit in Miami federal court. Miami lawyers Christopher Sundby and Gerald Greenberg of Gelber Schachter & Greenberg serve as local counsel.
Both law firms were sued last month by conservative legal activist Edward Blum and his nonprofit, American Alliance for Equal Rights, on allegations that their diversity fellowships for first- and second-year law students illegally discriminate against some of AAFER’s members. Blum has filed similar lawsuits across the professional services industry since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June opinion in SFFA v. Harvard, which banned race-based affirmative action in higher education.
Though the opinion was only directed toward higher education, a concurring opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch said that there was no reason Title VII of the civil rights laws — which covers workplace discrimination — is any different from Title VI, which governs higher education, since the wording in both laws prohibiting discrimination is extremely similar, leading to weeks of chatter over whether the private sector would become the next target of race-based affirmative action litigation.
Blum’s lawsuits against Perkins Coie and MoFo attacked the firms’ wording of the qualifications for which candidates of their diversity fellowships must meet to be considered — namely, they must come from underrepresented groups, including students of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and/or people with disabilities.
AAFER has already filed motions for preliminary injunction in both suits. U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay, who presides over the Dallas litigation, is giving Perkins Coie’s lawyers until Oct. 9 to file a response. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams, who presides over the Miami suit, is giving MoFo’s legal team until Oct. 6 to file a response.
The full Jenner & Block team defending Perkins Coie includes Andrianna Kastanek, Erica Turret, Ishan Bhabha, Lauren Hartz and Marcus Childress. The full Gibson Dunn legal team defending MoFo includes Blaine Evanson, Erica Payne, Michele Maryott and Molly Senger.
AAFER’s lawyers in the Dallas case are James Hasson, Cameron Norris, Tiffany Bates, Steven Begakis and Thomas McCarthy of Consovoy McCarthy in Arlington, Virginia. (But according to the lawsuit Begakis lives in Fort Worth.) Norris, Bates and McCarthy are part of the plaintiff’s legal team in Miami, which also includes Winter Park attorneys Michael Sasso and Christian Bonta of Sasso & Sasso and Nashville attorney Adam Mortara of Lawfair LLC.
The cause number for the Perkins Coie lawsuit is 3:23-cv-01877-L in the Dallas division of the Northern District of Texas.
The cause number for the Morrison Foerster lawsuit is 1:23-cv-23189-KMW in the Miami division of the Southern District of Florida.