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Law Firm Under Fire For Keeping Male and Female Attorneys Apart
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Taking a page from Victorian England’s book of workplace etiquette, a Dallas law firm is coming under fire from an employee for their policy of banning a man and woman from working together behind closed doors without a third party present. A new lawsuit alleges that the Dallas office of Scheef & Stone’s use of this policy has created a discriminatory work environment.  Kimberly A. Elkjer, who filed the lawsuit, is an attorney with the firm and feels that the rule prevented her from advancing within the company, and is suing the firm for discrimination.

Elkjer’s complaint alleges that the policy, which further prohibited males and female employees from being alone together at or outside of the office without a third party present, contributed to a segregated environment in the firm’s Dallas office. The complaint alleges that even though the policy was abolished, female attorneys at the firm are still struggling to advance at the same rate as male attorneys.

  
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“Scheef & Stone LLP has fostered a culture that generally encourages sex-based stereotypes, impedes female attorneys’ ability to develop professional relationships with male attorneys at the firm, promotes greater income and business opportunities for male attorneys at the firm as compared to female attorneys at the firms, and undermines female attorneys’ perceived and actual ability to perform work.”

Scheef & Stone currently lists 38 attorneys on their website, five of whom are female.

Responding to the lawsuit, Scheef & Stone released a statement saying that the policy, which is no longer in in place, has no effect on the advancement of attorneys within the firm. “In fact, objective evidence and our business records will clearly show that Ms. Elkjer disagrees with legitimate business decisions based on non-discriminatory criteria by the firm’s management that have nothing to do with gender and apply to all attorneys in the firm. No other female attorneys at the firm support Ms. Elkjer’s claims. We are fully prepared to defend this case.”

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Policies like the one at the center of Elkjer’s lawsuit were initially instituted to counteract the rising tide of sexual harassment. If a male employee and a female employee were not left alone together, then there can be no “he said, she said” when it comes to sexual harassment claims. However, this policy discounts the very real possibility of same-sex sexual harassment, and addresses the symptoms of harassment rather than its cause.  It’s no surprise that policies like this are being removed, but it is surprising that these policies existed in the first place.

Regardless of the peculiarity of a law firm’s policy on gender relations, the question is not on the morality of such policy but its legality. Elkjer’s suit was filed in Dallas County Court, and she seeks an injunction and compensatory and punitive damages of $200,000 to $1 million for gender discrimination.





 

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