On Monday, October 30, 2023, Attorney Brian Bixby filed a discrimination and retaliation complaint against Burns & Levinson LLP, the firm where he works and where he served as a longtime Chair of the Private Client Group.
Mr. Bixby is a highly regarded and experienced estate and fiduciary litigation attorney. Although he had served as a Chair of the Private Client Group for many years, in July of 2020, the Burns & Levinson Managing Partner decided “it was time” for Mr. Bixby to be replaced by a younger partner. At the meeting where this was discussed, one member of the Firm’s Executive Committee speculated that Mr. Bixby “fears approaching retirement.” Despite the fact that he objected to being removed from this role, which he rightly viewed as a demotion, the Firm announced, falsely, that Mr. Bixby was “stepping down” as practice group chair.
Mr. Bixby tried to address his concerns internally. When that failed and the Firm learned that he would bring a complaint to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), the Firm said that it was “really not going to be good” for him if he did that and that “it really [was] folly to go down that path.” Since Mr. Bixby filed at the MCAD, the firm has retaliated in several ways, financially and otherwise.
Burns & Levinson has taken the position that antidiscrimination laws – including Mass. G.L. c. 151B, which prohibits both discrimination and retaliation – do not apply to Mr. Bixby because he is a partner and, as such, is not an “employee” entitled to the protection of those laws.
Lead counsel for Mr. Bixby, Inga Bernstein, of Zalkind Duncan and Bernstein LLP, explained that “Mr. Bixby brought suit because he had no interest in stopping his practice or his Chairmanship. He is at the height of his career and intends to continue the active and successful practice he has maintained for many years. Burns & Levinson should not be trying to push him towards the door, particularly given that he remains one of the major rainmakers at the firm.”
She added, “I think many in the legal community will be shocked and appalled to learn that a leading law firm has taken the position that antidiscrimination laws do not apply to its partners. That is a major part of the firm’s work force, and it would raise serious concerns if a law firm were permitted to discriminate and retaliate against those lawyers. I’m sure no partner at any law firm thinks they gave up their civil rights by being named a partner.”
Mr. Bixby has always hoped to resolve his concerns without litigation. It remains his hope that the Firm will work to rectify his concerns so that he, and it, can focus on the work their clients need them to do.