NAWL Shares Testimony in The New York City Commission on Human Rights Public Hearing on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

    By: Caitlin Kepple on Dec 06, 2017

    NAWL submitted written testimony to the hearing, which took place on Wednesday, December 6, and focused on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace in New York City and how the local government can best address the issue. 

    Read NAWL's complete testimony:

    "As the recent “#metoo movement” has shown, sexual harassment continues to play an insidious role in every aspect of our society. The legal profession is no exception. But unlike other professions, we are specially tasked with enforcing constitutional principles of equality and justice and it is our collective obligation to use the law to effectively deter and punish those guilty of such misconduct.

    Sadly, the reality is that for decades sexual harassment has historically derailed the careers of the victims, not the perpetrators. Whether the victim reports the incident and feels the impact on her career trajectory or whether she chooses not to report the incident and leaves her job to avoid recurrence, her plans for the future are forever changed. If we are to make any progress, this must change.

    In the legal profession women face harassment from every angle – senior lawyers asserting their power, opposing counsel looking to exploit an advantage, clients who hold women attorneys’ fates in their hands, and many others. As with other professions, women lawyers must weigh the consequences of their responses against the likely, negative impact on their incomes and careers. 

    In 2016, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates passed Resolution 109 amending the model rules of professionalism, the template from which each state derives its guidelines for the ethical practice of law. This amendment prohibits sexual harassment and discrimination in the practice of law, which would be grounds for discipline, including disbarment. 

    Many states still have not adopted the new model rule and some actively opposed its adoption based on the rule’s potential to infringe the perpetrator’s First Amendment rights and the right to freely represent clients. In those states, women lawyers continue to face inappropriate conduct without a viable path to seek redress from the licensing agency entrusted to ensure ethical behavior by its lawyer members.  

    The National Association of Women Lawyers’ 2017 Survey on the Promotion and Retention of Women in Law Firms shows that despite graduating in almost equal numbers to men for two decades, women still only make up 19% of equity partnerships at the nation’s 200 largest law firms. There are a slew of reasons why that is the case, but sexual harassment has for decades most certainly played a part. 

    Just as lawyers advise their clients on the proper handling of sexual harassment claims, so too should they ensure that their own houses are in order. In those states in which the new model rule has not been adopted, the disciplinary body must create a mechanism for reporting, investigating, and resolving sexual harassment complaints. Law firms must enact zero tolerance policies – regardless of the status of the perpetrator and their importance to the law firms’ profits. Judges must mete out appropriate punishments for sexual harassment by lawyers before their courts. Employers must be open to receiving and resolving sexual harassment complaints from outside lawyers who have been harassed or assaulted by employees.

    As the institution charged with protecting the most vulnerable in our society, the legal profession must also protect the most vulnerable within its own ranks.


    Released: December 6, 2017, 7:52 am
    Keywords: NAWL News

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