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Sex and Power in the Legal Profession
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The Struggle for Equality: Sex and Power in the Legal Profession

Kissandra Tysman, formerly Kissandra Cohen, was a child genius. She attended UCLA and took calculus courses at the age of 10, graduating from Duke University with a double major in economics and sociology, as well as a minor in markets and management, at the age of 17. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she attended Loyola Law School in Los Angeles while concurrently working on her MBA. She was on the fast track to success.

During her third year in law school, Tysman began working for Masry & Vititoe, the law firm made famous by the movie Erin Brockovich. Tysman’s initial excitement subsided as time progressed and she became aware of Edward Masry’s far-reaching power and penchant for sex.

  
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Tysman would later allege that during her tenure with the firm, Masry, partner and co-founder of Masry & Vititoe, nuzzled her, grabbed her butt, and tried to kiss her, among other inappropriate behaviors. The atmosphere at the firm, she said, was extremely sexual. Masry’s personal assistant was a former Playboy model who maintained various pornographic websites while employed by the firm—websites she would openly modify while at work. Additionally, Masry would often take his personal assistant, as well as Brockovich and Tysman, along with him to lunch and on personal errands so that, as Tysman explained, he would “have his blonde babes with him.”

Education, wealth, and power can lead to exclusion. The legal field, which is still 70% male, is comprised of highly educated, well-paid, powerful men who make up an old boys’ network of sorts. When a group is homogenous, it can become a closed system to which outsiders pose a threat. Membership in the closed system provides access to valuable information and bestows the power to make critical business decisions. This type of closed system creates two distinct groups: those who have power and those who do not. Moreover, the system functions to ensure that those who have power are able to preserve it and that those who do not have power can never gain it.

The legal profession is unique in that an individual’s billable hours directly relate to his or her personal income as well as the amount of money generated by the firm. Individuals who bring in great numbers of clients and bill excessive numbers of hours become their firms’ rainmakers and, in many ways, the lifelines of their organizations. As a result, they are more apt to be given considerable power that is not afforded to others—and ample opportunity to abuse it. Thus, individuals who already are afforded power and authority as a result of the closed system are given even more power and authority when they reach certain levels of success within firms. Historically, this power has been given to men.

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Tysman also claimed that during her time with the firm, Masry’s power was all-encompassing. “He’s head honcho. He used to say, ‘I am the big cheese.’ He’s Mr. Masry. You do not disagree with Mr. Masry. That was a given,” she said. Yet Masry was not the sole perpetrator of the offensive behavior she observed in the firm; other associates, such as James Joseph Brown, III, allegedly acted in similar manners. Ironically, it was most likely Masry’s power and misbehavior that allowed other individuals in the firm to misbehave, as well. Masry’s actions sent signals to other males that such behavior was acceptable; if the highest-ranking individual in the firm could and did do it, others could as well.

According to Tysman, Brown sexually harassed her and made numerous anti-Semitic remarks to her. He asked her on numerous dates, and on one occasion, Tysman said, he “gave me a penis lollipop with a handwritten note. [The note read,] ‘If you ever get the urge to smoke, suck on this instead.’ And he signed it.”



In Tysman’s estimation, “the culture of the firm was a very sexually charged atmosphere […]. There were sexual things discussed in the office all the time […] words that I’d never even heard put together: ‘c-rag,’ ‘c’ for other women attorneys, ‘those f’in c’s.’ […] I think the whole general atmosphere there was very sexually charged and permissive of this sort of sexual conduct.”



 

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