Why you should do it
Sexual Harassment and Racial Discrimination continue to be an ongoing problem occurring within law firms.
California state law AB1825, part of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, first became effective August 17, 2007. This law mandates state-wide sexual harassment training for any employee who performs supervisory functions within a company of 50 employees or more. California’s harassment training requirements set the standard for the rest of the country. California, Maine and Connecticut are one of only three states mandating workplace harassment training. AB1825’s regulations aren’t always intuitive and will result in serious consequences if not complied with properly.
Racial and gender discrimination, as well as other forms of discrimination, may involve any one of the following parameters of law firm:
- Recruiting, Hiring and Advancement: All job requirements must be uniform and consistent when they are applied to people of all races, colors, genders, sexual orientations, and ages.
- Harassment/Hostile Work Environment: Offensive conduct is prohibited by Title VII. The conduct prohibited is derogatory comments, racial and gender slurs, ethnic slurs, and racial, sexist, and homophobic jokes.
- Compensation and Other Employment Terms, Conditions, and Privileges: Title VII prohibits discrimination involving compensation of employees and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
- Segregation and Classification of Employees: Employers are not legally allowed to assign employees to a specific group based on their race, color, gender, sexual orientation, or age.
- Retaliation: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits the retaliation of their co-workers or their employers because they oppose discrimination or because they participate in EEOC proceedings such as filing a charge, testifying, assisting or otherwise participating in an agency proceeding.
Sexual harassment is a common practice in law firms. Joanna Grossman, writing in the Hofstra Law Review, documents the presence of this potentially legal violation and discusses why attorneys and law firms haven’t taken the correct steps to prevent and decrease their liability in prejudice lawsuits. She cites the problem stemming from persistent acts of sexual harassment that go often unnoticed by partners and attorneys.
A 1990 survey by the American Bar Association reported that two-thirds of women in private legal practice had experienced or observed sexual harassment. A 1993 survey by the National Law Journal revealed that more than half of the female lawyers said they had been harassed at some point in their careers, and seventy percent of the attorneys thought harassment was a problem in their workplaces.
Why is this a persistent problem? Perhaps it’s because law firms cannot believe they could ever lose a court battle with an employee. We believe the more likely reason is that law firms lack knowledge about the day-to-day interactions of their employees and that they assume that their professionals will act more prudently than employees at other companies. It is hard for them to believe that their highly educated attorneys require prejudice training. Our position is that prejudice and discrimination training is necessary. Attorneys and law firms may experience lawsuits in the same way that some of the best and well-known organizations in America. These include Coca-Cola, The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, Starbucks, Abercrombie and Fitch, Cracker Barrell and The Vanguard Group.
A 1975 study of diversity in law firms by the U.S. Equal Employment Commission revealed that African Americans employed as associates have lower odds of being promoted to partner. Because of the intentional and unintentional acts of discrimination that law firms engage in, African American associates often leave firms before becoming partners. In their Stanford Law Review article, Wilkins and Gulati (1996), have extended these findings and suggest that practices in hiring, training, and promotion systematically disadvantage Black males.
Even when firms implement diversity initiatives to hire and promote African American lawyers, the common practice is to hire African American males who can assimilate into the traditional white male culture of the firm. The line that they walk between maintaining their own culture and self-identity and assimilation is stressful because they are constantly judged based on their race and gender—being black and male. Weatherspoon (2010) reports that African Americans at law firms seek out other employment, worry about retention, and cite a dearth of work as the main reason for leaving the firm.
The institutional practices of law firms that involve racialized perceptions and differential access to social networks combine to build an invisible structure of differential opportunities based on race. Antidiscrimination law is often ineffective because white partners are not motivated by intentional discrimination. Diversity education and discrimination training are regularly bypassed by longstanding informal networks of power among influential partners (Wilkins & Gulati, 1996).
Little attention is given to the ways in which racism and sexism intersect. This concept of “intersectionality” especially affects women of color who are presented with two strikes—one of race and one of gender. The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession (2006) documents how these women often feel isolated and remain on the periphery of law firms. This is the first major study that focuses specifically on women of color in private firms. In this study, 43.5 percent of the women of color surveyed reported missing out on desirable assignments because of race or gender while working at the largest law firm where they’ve practiced, compared to 25 percent of men of color, 38.6 percent of white women and only 1.9 percent of white men (American Bar Association, 2006).
While changing the ways in which your law firms practices law and with the concerns you about avoiding law suits, we know that it is possible not only to avoid these law suits but to also increase lawyer diversity, associate satisfaction, and financial performance. A local Los Angeles firm that ranks high in prestige has been addressing workplace diversity, the hiring of minority lawyers and women, and openly gay and lesbian lawyers for years. They are among the top firms in The American Lawyer’s “A-List” rankings of U.S. law firms. The staff at Diversity Training for Lawyers can help you achieve these same accomplishments.
“Diversity and inclusion are ultimately another approach to greater productivity”
Eric Ellis, Founder of Integrity Development.