In an opinion yesterday, Judge Oetken denied the defendants’ pre-discovery summary judgment motion in a sex discrimination suit against the law firm Chadbourne & Parke and certain partners. The defendants argued that the named plaintiffs, as firm partners, did not qualify as “employees” of the firm for purposes of the relevant discrimination statutes because of their titles and because of the terms of the partnership agreement.

Judge Oetken concluded, however, that the plaintiffs were entitled to discovery to prove whether the various factors distinguishing employees and owners were present in the case, and focused in particular on whether the firm was really run by a centralized Management Committee, as opposed to the partners generally:

Plaintiffs—as directed by Rule 56(d)—have submitted affidavits . . . . identifying areas of discovery necessary to adequately respond to Defendants’ factual representations under each [relevant] factor.

For example, Plaintiffs contest Defendants’ representation that Chadbourne’s hiring, firing, and status-change of partners is determined by the partners generally; rather, Plaintiffs argue, discovery would show that a sub-committee of partners (the Management Committee) exercises unilateral control over these decisions. Plaintiffs also contest any individual partner’s degree of control, autonomy, and access to profits, and they further suggest that discovery would reveal that the Management Committee alone wields such authority.