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Sexual Harassment Part 6: Sexual Harassment in the Legal Workplace

Posted by Kira Fonteneau | Jul 15, 2019 | 0 Comments

In our series on sexual harassment in the workplace, we have looked at several industries that are different from one another but are similar in the fact that far too many of their workers are bullied or harassed because of their gender. In our final installment, we are going to look at sexual harassment in the legal profession.

Over the past few decades, numerous legal professionals have done outstanding work obtaining justice for those who have been victims of sexual harassment. But sadly, this problem is just as pervasive within the legal profession as it is in many other industries. And in fact, there are some unique reasons why sexual harassment may be even more difficult to address when it happens in law firms than when it happens in other workplaces.

Although firms take the harassment complaints of their clients very seriously, they tend to give much less weight to those who complain of harassment within their own ranks. Managers at law firms usually ask for a lot of proof that harassment is occurring, especially when a newer female associate complains about a male associate who brings in a lot of cases. Many firms simply do not want to investigate these types of situations for fear that they will find the complaint to be true and have to take disciplinary action against someone who is making the firm a lot of money.

How Bad is the Problem of Sexual Harassment in the Legal Workplace?

Various surveys have produced different results with regards to the number of people who are sexually harassed at law firms. In our last post, we referenced a study by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) of white-collar industries that found that 22% of women had been harassed in the legal services field.

However, a comprehensive study conducted by Acritas (a leading legal industry data collection firm) and published by Bloomberg News found that more than one out of every three (35%) of female lawyers had been sexually harassed at work. And what's worse is that 77% of female harassment victims never reported the incident.

It is easy to see why sexual harassment victims in the legal industry are very hesitant to report what has happened to them. As mentioned earlier, firms tend to be very complacent when this type of behavior is reported, and they often do not take it very seriously.

An even better reason not to tell anyone is fear of repercussions for reporting a senior associate who harasses you. What if this person was your mentor? What if this person was in charge of assigning cases to you? Are you really going to risk losing out on being part of an important case over a few remarks or sexual advances?

And what happens if your harassment complaints get leaked to the rest of the office? This could cause you to be shunned by your co-workers and labeled “difficult” to work with.

Ultimately, it is a major career risk to report sexual harassment in the legal workplace. You may not be believed, and worse, you may be embarrassed, humiliated, and end up with far fewer career advancement opportunities.

The Revolt Against Forced Arbitration in BigLaw Firms

For legal industry workers who are brave enough to report sexual harassment, they often find that they have more limited legal options than they may have believed. This is because the overwhelming majority of larger law firms (commonly known as BigLaw) have made it a practice to force new employees to sign mandatory arbitration clauses. This means that if an employee complains about being harassed, the complaint must be resolved through binding arbitration with no option to pursue a lawsuit.

Thankfully, the #MeToo movement is beginning to change all of this. Last year, a group of Harvard Law students known as the Pipeline Parity Project began a movement to pressure large law firms into dropping their mandatory arbitration clauses. So far, they have been able to successfully persuade dozens of BigLaw firms to drop these clauses, but numerous firms still have them, and there is still a long way to go in cleaning up the problem of sexual harassment in the legal field.

Have you Been Bullied or Harassed in the Legal Workplace? Speak with an Experienced Employment Law Attorney

If you have been a victim of sexual harassment as a legal worker or as a worker in any other industry, you are not alone, and the tide is beginning to turn against those who would prefer to sweep this problem under the rug. You no longer have to tolerate having to earn a living in a hostile work environment; you can fight back, and there is legal relief available, which may include monetary damages.

Attorney Kira Fonteneau has stood up for the working people of Alabama since 2005. Kira has successfully represented numerous clients who have been sexually harassed in the workplace, and she can meet with you to discuss your case and advise you of your legal rights and options. For a confidential consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at (404) 383-5720 or message us through our web contact form.

About the Author

Kira Fonteneau

Partner and Managing Attorney of the Alabama Trial Practice Group at Barrett & Farahany Kira Fonteneau is a partner and the managing attorney of the Alabama trial group of Barrett & Farahany. Kira chose to specialize in employment law because she wanted to help employees take back power. ...

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