Former Akin Gump attorney Tameka Simmons filed a Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit alleging race discrimination and employment retaliation against her employer in December 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In her complaint, Simmons alleges that Akin Gump used her to promote its diversity and gave her stellar employment reviews, but subsequently fired her in September 2009 claiming that she took too many absences. Simmons alleges that Akin Gump frequently requested that she appear at firm functions to exemplify its diversity, and that the firm claimed to have four black lawyers while she was actually the only one. She also alleges that the firm replaced her with white colleagues on assignments.
Although her reviews found her caseload and billable hours adequate, her bosses warned her that she was being considered for termination based on her numerous absences and inadequate caseload. The firm claims that it dismissed poorly performing employees in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, and that Simmons’ firing was “purely economic.”
In October 2011, the District Court dismissed the suit. Simmons filed an appellate brief with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2012, claiming that the District Court judge ignored evidence that the firm admitted using race to make its firing decisions and alleged that the firm used poor performance as a pretext to make a race-based decision to fire her. She asked the Second Circuit to vacate the decision and remand it to the lower court. The firm alleged in its brief in support of affirmance of the decision that Simmons took a three-week vacation in the aftermath of the layoffs, and that she performed poorly in a weak department.