Staci Zaretsky writes, "Women in the legal profession regularly face discrimination simply because they’re women, but when those women work as litigators, that bias can take an undue turn. As we’ve noted time and again, basic human courtesy gets tossed to the wind when women lawyers become pregnant, especially when a trial is afoot. Do you recall the time when a trial attorney was forced to bring her newborn to court because a judge said her maternity leave was 'no good cause' for a continuance? Or perhaps you remember the time a litigator with a high-risk pregnancy was 'shouted at and insulted' over the mere prospect of a trial adjournment? To be quite frank, it is an embarrassment to the legal profession that women continue to be treated in this way.
One state is trying to combat this perpetual issue with a proposal for parental-leave continuances. In Florida, although judges would still have the final say, a new rule would create a presumption that pregnant lawyers should get continuances as needed. Hopefully, this much-needed rule will be approved, but until that happens, we’ll still have Biglaw partners like Paul T. Reid of Shook Hardy & Bacon essentially accusing a woman of getting pregnant to delay trial in a case that’s been ongoing for years.
Christen Luikart of Murphy Anderson is due in October, and a product liability trial she’s been lead counsel on is set for the same month. Luikart asked for a continuance to accommodate the final weeks of her pregnancy and the birth of her child, and Reid, of course, objected — and boy, did he object. Not only did he say in his opposition that her parental leave wasn’t a 'compelling circumstance' for a continuance, but you should check out the transcript from their appearance in court.
Not only did Reid compare Luikart’s pregnancy to an illness and suggest that she pass the case on to another attorney at her firm, but he alluded to the fact that she may have gotten pregnant in an attempt to further delay the proceedings. Reid says that his critics are taking his words out of context, but in any context, they are abhorrent. No, a pregnancy is not like an illness. No, a woman should not be forced to have a pregnancy turned into a career stumbling block by handing off years of her hard work to a colleague. No, a woman would not carry a pregnancy to term and bring a child into this world in a sick effort to delay a case."