By Lauren Linhard – firstname.lastname@example.org
The American Bar Association amended its ethics rules last week to include any sexist comments or actions as professional misconduct. Translation: Female lawyers will no longer be referred to as “honey,” “darling,” “sweetheart” or “cupcake” in the courtroom.
Yes it’s true – roughly 70 percent of female attorneys have experienced degrading gender bias by male attorneys, judges and colleagues. This behavior, among other factors, has been attributed to the small growth in female lawyers, increasing by only 2 percent over the past 16 years.
Just a few examples:
“I’ve been called ‘sweetheart’, ‘honey’ my first name and asked to get coffee,” said attorney Diane Hlywiak. “There was a judge at Los Angeles Superior Court who would not allow women to wear pants suits in his courtroom. Women had to wear a skirt and high heels.”
“Having appeared before in Harris County courts, my co-counsel was called ‘Sweety’ and ‘Darling’ throughout,” said male attorney Danny Wood. “She was also given advice, by the judge, on how to dress. Apparently, her perfectly bland grey suit skirt was too flashy for a woman and detracted from her message. It was shocking.”
“Once, I was involved in a case where opposing counsel was also a woman,” said Denise De Fabio Keliuotis. “The older male judge looked at us and said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to decide this one on the merits’ (implying he could not just support the side of the pretty one). He called both of us ‘dear’ repeatedly as we litigated in front of him.”
Though a number of state bar associations already have similar rules, without a blanket restriction across the board, the use of misogynist terms as strategy to undermine opposing counsel had no real consequences, said advocates of the new rule.
Specifically, the amendment forbids engaging “in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination,” including “sexual harassment and derogatory or demeaning verbal or physical comment.”
Failing to comply with the new ethics resolution (and being a decent human being) will now result in evaluation by respective state bar associations, with a possible fine or suspension from practice.