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Kirkland & Ellis Associate Alleges Sex Bias Against Firm

Zoya Kovalenko is a former associate in Kirkland and Ellis' intellectual property practice. In a 130-page lawsuit, Kovalenko alleges that several partners discriminated against her based on her sex in violation of Title VII and California's state anti-discrimination law. Kovalenko worked at the firm for ten months. However, she claims the firm only allowed her to perform work for seven months because of training, leave, and cutting her out after she complained of bias. Kovalenko alleges the firm assigned her a lot more work than the male IP associates and paid her less. Kovalenko says she was assigned work during her planned time off so that a male associate could enjoy his vacation. Kovalenko observed male associates receiving significantly more praise for their performances than she and the other female associates received. Kovalenko further stated that sex bias is evident in the “alarming high turnover of female associates relative to male associates.” She points to seven female associates leaving while just one male associate did. Kovalenko claims the firm terminated her during her first performance evaluation. Kovalenko said she initially received positive feedback on her work. During her termination, Kovalenko alleges the firm provided her with "a vague one-sentence statement" about her termination. She says the firm later "completely fabricated statements" about her performance. Kovalenko says the firm hid its statements about her performance to convince her to sign a release of all claims.

Kirkland & Ellis released a statement affirming its commitment to creating a workplace where everyone is treated with professionalism and respect. The firm further stated that Kovalenko’s performance fell "below the standards that the firm expects of its associates." Moreover, the firm said it investigated Kovalenko's claims and found no merit.