“Let me ask you this . . .” he began.
“. . . how do you think it would go over if the magazine ran an article called ‘Forty Men to Watch Under 40’?” He took the liberty of answering for her. “You and your little feminista friends would call that discrimination. But then isn’t that, per se, discrimination? Shouldn’t we men be entitled to our lists, too?”
J.D. held the door open for her and gestured for her to enter. As she passed by him, Payton noted that Ben wasn’t in his office yet, so she took a seat in front of his desk. As J.D. sat in the chair next to her, she turned to him, coolly unperturbed.
“I find it very interesting when a man, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, sitting next to me in an Armani suit, has the nerve somehow to claim that he is the victim of discrimination.”
J.D. opened his mouth to jump in, but Payton cut him off with a finger. Index, not middle. She was a lady after all.
“Notwithstanding that fact,” she continued, “I submit that you men do have your so-called ‘lists.’ Several at this firm, in fact. They’re called the Executive Committee, the Management Committee, the Compensation Committee, the firm’s golfing club, the intramural basketball team—”
“You want to be on the basketball team?” J.D. interrupted, his blue eyes crinkling in amusement at this.
“It’s illustrative,” Payton said, sitting back in her chair defensively.
Payton sat upright at the sound of the voice. She glanced over as Ben Gould, head litigation partner, strode confidently into his office and took a seat at his desk. He fixed Payton with a curious gaze of his dark, probing eyes. She shifted in her chair, trying not to feel as though she was already under interrogation.
J.D. answered Ben before Payton had a chance. “Oh, it’s nothing,” he said with a dismissive wave. “Payton and I were just discussing the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Ledder v. Arkansas, and how the opinion is illustrative of the Court’s continuing reluctance to embroil itself in state’s rights.”
Payton glanced at J.D. out of the corner of her eye.
Although admittedly, that wasn’t too shabby a bit of quick thinking.
Ben laughed at them as he quickly glanced at the messages his secretary had left on his desk. “You two—you never stop.”
Payton fought the urge to roll her eyes. He really had no idea.
J.D. seized on Ben’s momentary distraction to lean forward in his chair. He held the lapel of his suit out to Payton and whispered. “And by the way, it’s not Armani. It’s Zegna.” He winked at her.
Payton glared, tempted to tell him exactly where he could stick that Zegna suit.
“Sorry to call you both down here on such short notice,” Ben said. “But as you both may be aware, Gibson’s Drug Stores chain has just been hit with a class action gender discrimination lawsuit.”
Payton had indeed heard about the lawsuit—yesterday’s filing of the complaint in a federal court in Florida had made all the national papers and had even been discussed on MSNBC and CNN.
“The complaint was filed yesterday, assigned to Judge Meyers of the Southern District of Florida,” she said, eager to let Ben know she was on top of things.
“The claims were filed under Title VII—one-point-eight million female employees of the company allege they were discriminated against in hiring, pay, and promotion,” J.D. added with a sideways glance in Payton’s direction. He, too, had done his homework.
Ben smiled at their eagerness. He leaned back, twirling his pen casually. “It’s the largest discrimination class action ever filed. That means big bucks to the law firm that defends Gibson’s.”
Payton saw the glint in Ben’s eye. “And who might that be?”
Ben laced his fingers together, drumming them against the back of his hands like a villain in a James Bond movie.
“Funny you should ask, Payton . . . The CEO of Gibson’s, Jasper Conroy, hasn’t decided yet which law firm will defend his company. He has, however, chosen three of the top firms in the country to meet with.”
J.D. grinned. “Let me take a wild stab in the dark here: our firm is one of those three.”
Ben nodded, proud as always that his group of litigators was continually ranked as being among the best in the world. “Nice guess. I got the call earlier this morning from Jasper Conroy himself.”
He pointed at J.D. and Payton. “And here’s where you two come in: Jasper was very clear about the type of trial team he’s looking for. He wants a fresher image to represent the face of his company, not a bunch of stodgy old men in suits, like me.” Ben chuckled, fully aware that at forty-nine years old he was actually quite young to be the head of litigation at such a prestigious firm. “Personally,” he continued, “I think Jasper is just trying to avoid paying partner rates.”
Like the good associates they were, Payton and J.D. laughed at the joke.
“Anyhoo . . .” Ben went on, “I told Jasper that this firm just so happens to have the perfect litigators for him. Two very experienced, very savvy senior associates. You two.”
Through her surprise, it took Payton a moment to process what Ben was saying. A large pit was growing in her stomach, because this conversation was headed in a very bad direction.
If someone made her swear an oath under cross-examination—better yet, if Jack Bauer himself subjected her to the full array of interrogation tactics at CTU’s disposal—Payton couldn’t have said exactly how her war with J.D. had started. Frankly, it had been going on for so long that it simply seemed to be the way things always were.