Walter Clark Legal Group facing 3 civil lawsuits claiming gender, pregnancy discrimination
Walter Clark Legal Group is the target of three new lawsuits filed by current and former employees, all of them women who claim they were illegally discriminated against based on their pregnancies and gender.
The suits, which were first obtained and reported by News Channel 3, describe individual work experiences the women said support their claims that the workplace has a "pervasive employment discrimination culture."
Walter Clark, CEO and founder of the firm, broadly denied the claims in the suit and said he will win this case in court.
One of the women is still a senior executive at the firm. The other two women said they were fired on the same day in November 2020.
"We don't know Walter Clark, we know his his public persona, we know the archetype that he's created... The women who worked with him closely, they know him and they really know who he is," said Daphne Delvaux, a San Diego-based employment attorney who represents the three women suing Walter Clark Legal Group.
Former employee 'resented' and 'retaliated against'
Tanya Figueroa worked for more than two years at Walter Clark Legal Group, starting in September 2018 in the documents department.
In an exclusive interview with News Channel 3, Figueroa said she was a respected employee who quickly earned a promotion there – until she got pregnant and needed time off due to a high-risk pregnancy condition called placenta previa.
"It's supposed to be a joyous experience of bringing a child into the to the world yet they robbed me of that," Figueroa said. "The energy shift; it was starting to feel like I was being resented."
Figueroa gave birth to her son and when she returned to the office, she said she was denied a private space to express breastmilk for her baby.
California law protects nursing mothers and obligates employers “to provide a private lactation space…” “other than a bathroom…” that is ”free from intrusion."
"So I said, 'Okay, well, I'll just go to my car... I will use my my breaks to pump in my car. It was very hot – very, very hot. For weeks, weeks, I did that," Figueroa said.
In her own lawsuit, former employee Aubree Enriquez also recalled pumping in her car in triple-digit heat, after she declined an offer to use a non-private room or the bathroom. She said she felt dismissed.
The lawsuits from Figueroa and Enriquez name only Walter Clark Legal Group as a defendant.
"In Walter Clark's really big law firm, which it's a big infrastructure and big facility, there are enough spaces to create a private room. And they simply refused to do that," Delvaux said. "They offered a space that is not private, where people walk in and out, which is against the law- or the bathroom, which is also against the law."
Figueroa claimed when she returned to work, her position and responsibilities shifted from what they were before taking leaves, and her productivity came under question.
"My job is on the line here, and I'm feeling I feel like it is only because I have a kid at home and I've had to request time off," she said. "I'm a new mom, and I just felt like I was being retaliated against because of that."
In a statement to News Channel 3, Clark called these claims "without merit" and "unfounded."
Attorney: Walter Clark text message shows 'inner state of mind'
Bobbi Batres, who is currently Chief Operating Officer at Walter Clark Legal Group, is now suing both the firm and Walter Clark himself.
Her lawsuit includes a group text message exchange she was a part of in about another employee becoming pregnant.
According to the filing, Walter Clark replies: "K what next? Costco provide morning after pills in bulk we can leave in ladies’ room?”
"What we're seeing here is a pattern. And it goes beyond allegations, when we have a text message like this, and when we have multiple women saying the same thing," Delvaux said. "It is us having actual evidence in our hands, showing the inner state of mind of Walter Clark and how this firm operates."
Each of the lawsuits is supported by complaints filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which requires a declaration under penalty of perjury that they're true.
Walter Clark: 'We will prevail in court'
In a statement to News Channel 3, Walter Clark wrote:
"We are very proud of our firm’s 26 years serving our community.
We deeply value all of our 90 team members, and their families. Team members welcoming children into their homes are celebrated, including several new additions this past year. Family is central to everything we do, as demonstrated by generous benefits for team members, including fully paid medical benefits, pregnancy support, accommodations for nursing mothers, and financial aid for team members attending college. We practice lifelong commitment to our families.
73% of our staff are female and half of our attorneys are female. Any claim of gender discrimination is without merit and we will prevail in court.
Important to note, 2 complainers, Figueroa and Enriquez, were terminated almost 2 years ago while Batres, the 3rd complainer, our current and then chief operations officer, was responsible for the very condition of which they now complain.
Sadly, the San Diego lawyer who is driving these unfounded claims wrote that, if we want to go to court, she would ‘send the suit to her contacts in the media and post the lawsuit on social media.’ We have chosen to go to court rather than submit to attempted extortion."
Delvaux responded to these claims, saying that Batres has always advocated for Figueroa and Enriquez but her efforts were stopped by other firm leadership members.
She said she shared the lawsuits publicly because "the community deserves to know...what is happening behind closed doors."
Fighting for equal treatment
Delvaux and her clients said they hope to stand up to stereotypes and further the fight for equal treatment as women.
"I just want people to know that they don't have to succumb, they don't have to be victimized to this kind of abuse from their employer," Figueroa said.
"This is a widespread problem, sexism... the bias against mother's pregnancy discrimination, it continues to happen," Delvaux said. "They may think that they can get away with those choices because they have prestige and power within the community. But no one is above the law."
Jury trial requested
These lawsuits will now be in the active litigation stage, Delvaux said. Both sides will be requesting documents, depositions and cross-examinations.
A body of evidence will be created for a jury to eventually consider, if the cases go to trial.
Clark said he is planning on taking this on in court.
Walter Clark Legal Group is a sponsor of News Channel 3. This story's reporting was conducted independently.