NJ Law Firm Partner Claims Age Discrimination

November 27, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A 52-year-old partner fired by Newark, New Jersey-based Sills Cummis & Gross is accusing the firm of age discrimination.

According to the New Jersey Law Journal, James Toll alleges in his complaint that managing partner Robert Max Crane said in September 2006 that Toll was “not a right fit and should leave the firm,” and after that, the firm stopped giving him work. Toll complained last December that he was “being discriminated against because of his age and a perceived disability from a 1997 heart attack,” the suit says, according to the Law Journal.

The suit says the firm hired a substantially younger lawyer for the products liability department in which Toll was working, and Toll was fired September 26. The suit does not cite any overt acts by the firm relating to his age or allege the firm has a policy of requiring older attorneys to leave.

The law firm’s attorney in the case says Toll did plaintiffs work and was let go because the firm is shedding that type of representation. “Jim Toll’s separation arose out of the firm’s desire to change its business model to eliminate the plaintiff’s personal injury practice area,” the attorney said, according to the New Jersey Law Journal. “The decision had nothing to whatsoever to do with age, as he has alleged in this lawsuit.”

The complaint alleges that the firm violated New Jersey’s Oppressed Minority Shareholder Statute by firing Toll without giving him “the fair value of his membership interest in the firm.” He is seeking front pay and back pay and sums for pain and suffering.

The suit says Toll was an equity partner, and the question of whether a partner has equity in a firm and plays a role in management has become an important issue in discussion of age discrimination at law firms. Chicago’s Sidley Austin Brown & Wood argued in a recent case that 32 non-equity partners subject to mandatory retirement or loss of partnership status because of age in a 1999 reorganization were employers, not protected by bias laws, but an appeals judge ruled that partners who have no say in a firm’s management have protections against discrimination.

Sidley Austin paid $27.5 million to settle the claim brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity (See Sidley Austin Decides to Settle ADEA Suit).