Sexual Harassment in the Legal Industry

December 12, 2016 - Lawyers, managing partners, and law firm HR departments are well aware of the potentially expensive costs related to discrimination and sexual harassment. Even knowing the legal implications of such misconduct, sexual harassment is not uncommon in law firms throughout the United States. While claims are certainly not limited to female victims, women are most often the target of power and influence. For paralegals, young associates and other women in the profession of law, sexual harassment is a reality that should not go ignored.

Here are some examples of how not-so-innocent remarks or interactions could run afoul of the law:

  • A partner makes comments about an associate’s attire or figure
  • Emails containing sexual lewd or explicit comments are sent between colleagues
  • A partner or colleague inappropriate touches another associate
  • A summer associate or new hire is asked out by a partner or other higher ranking attorney
  • A partner offers a new position, higher salary, or other promotion in exchange for sexual favors
  • A client sexually harasses a secretary or front of house staff and firm fails to respond

Law firms are not above the law!
Sometimes law firms do not take enough serious action to stop or prevent sexual harassment. According to reports, there is more sexual harassment within law firms than in Fortune 500 companies. Recent studies show that 17 percent of female attorneys and 12 percent of support staff have suffered sexual harassment in the last year alone. These statistics seem to be spread evenly among small and large firms, in rural and urban locations. It is important for law firms to take all complaints seriously, even if those complaints are directed at a highly ranked partner or very promising associate that they don’t want to lose.

Should I complain to a managing partner or administrator?
If you are the target of inappropriate conduct and harassment, you should document all of the action and report it as soon as possible. If you are concerned about the repercussions of reporting sexual harassment, remember that retaliation is illegal. Any adverse employment action that results from reporting sexual harassment is considered retaliation and against the law. An experienced employment law attorney can review the facts of your case, help you take the best course of action in your firm, and protect your rights to your position or just compensation.

Is it really sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment often goes unreported because victims do not believe they will be taken seriously. Many of them may chalk it up to innocent flirting or playfulness, even if it makes them uncomfortable. Most harassment escalates over time and even subtle comments should be taken seriously. Cases involving quid pro quo, offers for promotions or improved working conditions in exchange for sexual favors, or vice versa, a threat of adverse employment action, should be immediately documented and reviewed.

Experienced sexual harassment lawyers in Minnesota
Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP is dedicated to protecting the rights of employees in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and throughout Minnesota. For more information about sexual harassment in the workplace or to speak to an attorney about your potential case, please call us at 612-252-3570 or click here to contact us.