Female Lawyers Take A Firmer Stand

By Robin Abcarian
Los Angeles Times.
Opinion.

REPORTING FROM SAN JOSE

Sitting in her attorney’s conference room the other day, Lynne Coates had a strained look on her face. A trial lawyer who used to work for Farmers Insurance, Coates was pressed for time because she was due in court.

Also, the story she was about to tell me was painful to recount.

In 1993, Coates was hired by Farmers Insurance, which employs hundreds of attorneys to battle claims. She spent five years there before leaving for another job. In 2010, she returned to Farmers, and spent four happy years in its San Jose office.

Her job satisfaction changed abruptly one day when she discovered by accident that she was earning less money than a male attorney in her office with less experience.

“It was just sort of an off-the-cuff remark that one of my male colleagues made one day when we found out there was going to be a management change in my office,” Coates, 49, said. “He said, ‘Oh, yeah, I could stay here and continue to make X every year.’ At that point, my head started spinning.”

She earned $99,000. His pay was $102,000. Not a huge difference, until you take into account that Coates had many years more experience.

“After that,” she said, “I got nosy.”

She buttonholed colleagues. She learned that one female attorney who had been at the company for four years earned only $68,000.

What really got Coates, though, was how little she earned compared to her trial partner, a man who had been practicing for roughly the same number of years. She figured his salary was between $150,000 and $200,000.

Coates stewed for a while. She tried to brush it off. But she couldn’t let it go. She complained to her supervisor. He was sympathetic, said he’d get back to her.

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