ABA passes sexual harassment amendment for attorneys

Posted in Sexual Harassment,Sexual Harassment by Industry on August 18, 2016

As chief executive of the National Association of Women Lawyers, Jenny Waters undoubtedly gets her share of job-well-done kudos and additional confirmation that speaks to her professional competency.

She also once got a pat on the head from a male attorney.

That beats what another female lawyer was recently subjected to in a federal courtroom in San Jose. When she demanded that opposing male counsel stop interrupting her when she was speaking, he berated her in a condescending way, telling her that raising her voice to him was “not becoming of a woman.”

That justifiably roused her ire. She deemed the interjection hostile treatment and pressed the presiding judge to mete out sanctions.

He did, calling the opposing attorney’s comment “a sexist remark” and more than “just a professional discourtesy.”

A recent New York Times article focuses in some detail on sexual harassment in the legal industry, which many female attorneys say is a pernicious and endemic concern. Proponents supporting reform measures to address what they say is belittling and even illegal behavior point to instances where they are addressed by male colleagues as “darling” or “honey” and otherwise treated in patronizing ways.

The American Bar Association has acted on that concern, with the organization passing earlier this month an amendment that bars lawyer-authored discrimination and harassment in legal practice.

The change in the ABA’s Model Rules establishes a national standard regarding the issue, augmenting a wide swath of patchwork laws that already exist in many states addressing it.

Not everyone is a fan. One critic notes that the reform measure could chill lawyers’ free speech rights and be used as a weapon by clients and other attorneys with grudges.

Those who laud the change are many, though, and cite myriad reasons for being enthusiastic about the amendment.

The bottom line for an ex-director of the San Francisco Bar Association is this: “An ethical rule makes us accountable,” she says.