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The Problem With Women

At the prestigious law firm McCarthy Tétrault, a junior partner named Diane LaCalamita watched as less-experienced male attorneys were promoted above her. She complained, got fired, and is now suing the firm for $12 million. Her supporters say the old boys’ club is still preventing women from getting ahead. Her critics dismiss her as a mediocre lawyer who couldn’t hack it in the big leagues. The story behind the case that’s dividing Bay Street

(Image: John Hryniuk)

Every weekday evening, when the bell rings and the markets close, dozens of suits from the financial district pour down into Ki, a Japanese restaurant smart enough to be located at King and Bay. Outstretched arms, clad in sombre Canali, eagerly pass corporate credit cards to the bartenders, who then hand back a steady stream of vodka sodas, Jäger shots and goblets of merlot. Bankers, brokers and lawyers come here to mingle and gossip with colleagues and clients. On many nights last year, the most talked-about subject at Ki was Diane LaCalamita’s $12-million gender discrimination suit against McCarthy Tétrault, the fourth largest law firm in the country and one of the storied Bay Street outfits known colloquially as the Seven Sisters. LaCalamita’s story is set out in a statement of claim that stretches 66 pages. The day it became available, it was photocopied and eagerly passed around the financial district like the latest potboiler.

It’s not just the law firms that are fixated, but other institutions, as well—the banks and brokerage houses, the accounting and engineering firms. All have a stake in how the case gets resolved. It’s being watched—nervously or excitedly, depending on your rank and status—on both sides of the border. Never before has a partnership of McCarthys’ size and stature come so close to having its doors blown open and its pay scales and promotion methodology exposed for all the world to see.

Not surprisingly, McCarthys, in its statement of defence, denies LaCalamita’s allegations, which remain unproven, and vaunts its own efforts to promote women in the profession. The firm claims she was simply not up to the job.

On this, Bay Street is divided. For some—mainly men, but some women, too—it’s the story of a bitter, mediocre lawyer who couldn’t cut it among the top-flight litigators at an elite firm. For others—mostly women, but some men, as well—it’s the kind of case that will finally bring to light the subtle forms of discrimination and stereotyping that linger, like some insidious mould, among the offices and boardrooms.

Diane LaCalamita could not have known that she would one day be at the centre of a gender war on Bay Street. She’s the daughter of a pharmacist and a photographer. Her parents taught her not to think along traditional gender lines, and their choice of professions would influence her own decision, 18 years ago, to pursue the burgeoning field of intellectual property law. She attended Havergal College, the elite private school in north Toronto, before pursuing an undergrad degree in life sciences, followed by a law degree at U of T. She was called to the bar in 1992 and earned a master of laws degree from the University of London a year later. She then embarked on a career in a niche area of law.

Through the ’80s and ’90s, IP law was the exclusive domain of a few boutique firms in the city. The emergence of the highly litigious tech industry—including biotech, pharma and life sciences, where patent infringement can lead to lengthy multimillion-dollar lawsuits—was a boon for lawyers.

  • Ridiculous

    So much of this stuff she was supposed to get was promised verbally as opposed to getting it in writing in her f’ing contract. That’s dumb. Especially for a lawyer.

    The article barely gets into the problems with her billing – which could have been a huge part of the problem they were having with her.

    The article glosses over the fact that she “passive aggressively” did this or that and then, worst o all, at the beginning of the end, basically gave up on the job waiting to be packaged out.

    There’s a professional and competent way to deal with problems you have with your employer or lot in life at the company. This article is a textbook example of how not to do it.

  • Marshall

    You are obvously a man.
    Diane LaCalamita is my hero!
    Maybe the problem with her billing hours had soomething to do with the extras the firm had her doing, all the added responsabilities that were not part of her title.

  • Ridiculous

    “Maybe the problem with her billing hours had soomething to do with the extras the firm had her doing, all the added responsabilities that were not part of her title.”

    Okay, for a second let’s assume your theory is true. That means she agreed to perform tasks that weren’t part of her job description i.e. that weren’t written into her contract. Well, that would be another failure on her part.

    “You are obvously a man.”
    What a completely baseless comment – and therefore moronic.

  • K

    Perhaps the article is missing some points. But the reality remains. Women (whether or not LaCalamita’s situation) are paid less than men in the same position with the same responsibilities.

    In addition, let me assure you – many company’s still employ the “old boys’ club” school of thought. My previous employer (an income investment firm) was the epitome of this. A private firm of a few hundred employees with a male chief in charge. If that place had been a bank with a proper HR department, it would not exist simply due to the law suits. As a woman, you needed one helluva thick skin, and steel balls. Oh…the tales I could tell.

  • David Stillman

    Many male lawyers are part of an after hours club known as a masonic lodge, they are brothers and hep each other out in the real world

  • dd

    Welcome to the bullshit world of the canadian job market.

  • Right On

    LaCalamita has incredible courage, and I applaud her.
    The easy thing to do would have been to get another job and get out of a clearly toxic environment. To walk away.
    I am so grateful to her for exposing the perpetual boys club, and the way that biglaw treats its employees.

    The inescapable reality is that many of the women who succeed and are held out as the “female partners” got there one of two ways – they acted like men, or, and I hate to say this, slept with them. Which makes firing them a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    It is simply impossible to be a woman and work like one in a male-dominated environment.

    Go to any Bay street sit-down lunch spot and you will find it stacked heavily with men. They are schmoozing. The women are at the office, trying to work twice as hard and twice as well to get to the same place their counterparts are getting to at lunch. They weren’t invited. It’s a guy thing.

  • HMC

    Diane: I would love to interview you for my Major Research Paper for my Masters course. I am studying the reality of gender issues pertaining to Leader Development in professional services (law firms, advertisting, asset/money management) The system and the network are stacked against women and women need to figure that out so that they can put in place a really effective plan on where to focus their best, time-constrained efforts. Won’t always work and the firms have an accountability, but women only networks are not the most ‘critical’ of connections.

  • Response

    Response to: Okay, for a second let’s assume your theory is true. That means she agreed to perform tasks that weren’t part of her job description i.e. that weren’t written into her contract. Well, that would be another failure on her part.

    How many times have any of us been asked to do things outside of our job description? Sometimes it’s a small task, sometimes a larger one. These things add up, take up your time, and are done at first in the name of ‘go along to get along’. If at every point you respond with ‘that’s not my job’ you isolate yourself socially in your at-work network, which is an important source of information in the goings-on in the work place. This is even more true of women in officially subordinate roles in the work place, i.e. when your superior is male, and your superior gives you a task. Men often ask women to do things that are deemed ‘women’s work’ or otherwise below them – statistically more often than they would ask men at the same level as a woman in this example. Men in a superior position often do not want to ‘overburden’ men with ‘unimportant’ work. Instead, since it’s ‘women’s work’ and thereby ‘easy’ work, it is no problem to ask a woman to do it. See the double standard?