“There are no quotas or maximums,” Ben had repeatedly assured her in her annual reviews. “Each associate is judged on his or her own merit.” And from what Payton had observed in the classes before her, this statement appeared to be true: each year the associates who were ranked at the top of their class all made partner regardless of the total number of associates being considered that year.

So from where Payton stood, her chances of making it were pretty good, especially since she and J.D. were the only two litigators left in their class. According to her friend Laney, who also worked at the firm but was in the class below them, this was not coincidence: the gossip among the younger associates was that Payton and J.D. had scared off the other members of their class who hadn’t been nearly as interested in keeping pace and working the same ridiculous hours as them.

Which was why it wasn’t a competition between them.

Frankly, Payton would’ve disliked J.D. no matter what class he had been in. He just had this way about him that really, really irked her.

Payton got to her office and took a seat at her desk. She checked her computer and saw that she had received thirty-two new email messages during the brief time she had been in Ben’s office. She refrained from sighing out loud in exasperation. Four more weeks, she reminded herself.

Plowing through the emails, she came across one from the firm’s Executive Committee. Intrigued, Payton opened it and was pleasantly surprised by what she read:

In order to honor its commitment to the policies created by the Committee for the Retention of Women, the firm is proud to announce that it has set a goal of increasing the number of female partners by 10 percent by next year.

Payton sat back in her chair, rereading the announcement and considering the reasons behind it. Frankly, it was about time the firm took some action—they were notorious for having the lowest percentage of female partners in the city.

She reached for her phone to call Laney, who she knew would have a similar reaction to the news. Mid-dial, she glanced across the hall and saw J.D. returning from his male-bonding meeting of the Mighty Penis-Wielders with Ben. Payton hung the phone up as she watched J.D. enter his office—she had to see this.

J.D. took a seat at his desk. Just like Payton, he immediately checked his email. There was a moment’s delay as Payton waited in delicious anticipation . . . then—

J.D.’s eyes went wide as he read what Payton could only presume was the email from the Executive Committee. He clutched his heart as if having an attack, then snatched the phone on his desk out of its cradle and dialed someone up with a quickness.

His friend Tyler, Payton guessed. If she were a betting woman, she’d wager that J.D. was just a tad less excited about the email regarding the retention of women than she.

Score one for Team Kendall, Payton thought.

Not that it was a competition between them.

Not at all.

Three

“IT’S HORSESHIT!”

J.D. felt some satisfaction as he smashed the squash ball with his racquet. He’d been in a foul mood all day, ever since he’d seen that ridiculous email from the Executive Committee.

“A ten percent increase in female partners!” he raged on, his breath ragged with exertion. He was definitely off his game that evening. Tyler had barely broken a sweat while J.D.—normally the far better player of the two (if he modestly said so himself)—had been diving all over the court just to keep up.

Tyler returned J.D.’s volley easily. “Still only brings them to twenty-eight percent,” he said good-naturedly.

“Who are you, Gloria Steinem?” J.D. glared at his friend for even suggesting there was any possible defense for the policy change the firm had announced today. “It’s their decision, Tyler,” he continued. “There is no glass ceiling anymore—these women choose to leave the workforce of their own volition.”

“Ahh . . . the voice of equality rings out once more.” Tyler laughed.

“Hey, I’m all for equality,” J.D. said as he hit the ball with another gratifying smash. Frankly, his friend’s lack of concern over the Executive Committee’s email baffled him. After all, Tyler worked at the firm, too, and while he wasn’t up for partner this year, his day soon would come.

“And anyone else who allegedly stands for equality should be against this policy as well,” J.D. continued. “It’s reverse discrimination.”

Tyler shrugged this off. “It’s only a commitment to make a ten percent increase. What difference does it make?”

J.D. couldn’t listen to another word. With one hand, he caught the ball, bringing their game to an abrupt stop. He pointed his racquet at Tyler. “I’ll tell you what my problem is.”

Tyler set his own racquet down and leaned against the wall. “I sense that I should get comfortable here.”

J.D. ignored the sarcasm. “The playing field isn’t level—that’s the problem. Now maybe you’re comfortable accepting that, but I’m not. You know as well as I do that these days, if a man and a woman are equally qualified for a position, the woman gets the job. It’s this socially liberal, politically correct society we live in. Men have to be twice as good at what they do to remain competitive in the workplace. Women just have to stay in the race.”

Tyler eyed him skeptically. “Do you really believe that?”

“Absolutely,” J.D. said. “At least in the legal environment. It’s a numbers game. Because, percentage-wise, so few women stay at these large law firms—again by choice,” he emphasized quickly, “when one woman who’s halfway decent does come up for partner, she’s a shoo-in. But do guys like you and me have it so easy?”


Tags: Julie James Romance
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