$27.5 million settlement in law firm’s age discrimination suit

The international law firm of Sidley Austin LLP, Chicago, will pay $27.5 million to 32 former partners to settle an EEOC lawsuit. The EEOC claims 29 of the partners were either expelled or demoted during a 1999 reorganization, and the remaining three retired under the firm’s age-based retirement policy.

The case, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, broke legal ground by tackling the question of whether partners qualify as protected employees under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Because the settlement applies only to the present case, the question of partners’ status under the ADEA remains open.

The settlement bars Sidley Austin from maintaining any policy that forces retirement or changes partners’ status based on age. A Sidley Austin representative denies that the firm has a mandatory retirement policy.