A former employee at Bailey & Oliver Law Firm in Rogers is taking the law office and one of its co-owners to court over what she says is a violation of the Equal Pay Act (EPA).
Hannah Newell filed the lawsuit on Jan. 10 in Benton County Circuit Court alleging the law firm paid male attorneys at a higher rate during her employment. The firm and Sach Oliver, who owns the law office along with Frank Bailey, are the two named defendants.
Newell began working at Bailey & Oliver as a paralegal in July 2013, according to the filing. She was promoted to an associate attorney three months later after asking Oliver for more responsibilities as a lawyer. Newell is licensed and educated in England, according to the filing, but does not yet hold an Arkansas attorney’s license.
Newell claims in the lawsuit Oliver told her the lack of an Arkansas license would not interfere with her job, or hold her back in her role as a lawyer, and she would have the same responsibilities and pay as any other associate attorney in the firm. Newell, the only female lawyer working for the firm at the time, resigned June 29, 2016. According to the firm’s website, Nichole Manning joined the law office in July 2016 as an associate attorney and is the only woman listed among the firm’s seven attorneys.
Newell also claims gender discrimination against the law firm based on “acts and conduct directed primarily” by Oliver, according to the filing.
Newell’s suit was filed after receiving a dismissal and notice of rights letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Nov. 30. She is seeking back pay and an award equal to the difference between the wages she should have earned and what she was actually paid. She’s also seeking reimbursement of legal costs.
Bailey & Oliver and Oliver individually are being represented by Fayetteville attorneys Robert Jones III and Kerri Kobbeman of Conner & Winters LLLP. They gave the following statement to Talk Business & Politics:
“It is important to note that the EEOC dismissed the plaintiff’s claims of discrimination. We believe her claims are without merit and look forward to proving such in court.”
Newell’s lawyer, Fort Smith attorney Joe Byars Jr. of Byars & Hall PLLC, declined to comment. The defendants have until Feb. 9 to respond to Newell’s allegations.
Oliver, a noted trial lawyer, was named Outstanding Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2015 by the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA). At 34 years old, he is still the youngest-ever recipient of that honor. Oliver is one of four members in District 1 (Northwest Arkansas) to serve on the executive committee of the ATLA Board of Governors.
The EPA was passed by Congress in 1963, requiring employers to pay men and women equally for doing equal work. Median pay for full-time female lawyers was 77.4% of the pay earned by their male counterparts, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau.