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Law Firms Need to Address Their Own Sexual Harassment Issues
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MeToo

Summary: Law firms are quick to dish out advice to others facing sexual harassment accusations but they have their own matters that they need to be using their advice on.

The #MeToo movement has caused a stir among organizations with law firms dishing out advice on how to handle sexual harassment claims. The problem is that no organization is exempt from harassment issues, even law firms have their issues handling the sensitive matters.

  
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According to Bloomberg Law, law firms need to be addressing their own harassment issues. Law firm employees report that they don’t know how to report harassment and don’t trust their firm to handle the matter anyways when it involves a top lawyer. The concern is that even if law firms work on training and discipline within their firms, there still exists an imbalance in power between employee levels fueling harassment issues.

Two major law firms – Dentons and Ogletree Deakins – are already dealing with sexual harassment lawsuits of their own. The American Bar Association and California Supreme Court have responded to the #MeToo movement and recent lawsuits with instructions detailing law firms’ responsibilities.

Vedder Price labor and employment shareholder Sadina Montani told Bloomberg Law, “Huge differences in power dynamics and relatively little check on that power” play into when misconduct occurs. The imbalance in power relates to likelihood of reporting since it’s often the one in power being the perpetrator and the victim being the one lower on the ladder. An Association of Legal Administrators survey done by consultant Elizabeth Mell found that employees avoid telling their firm “due to fear” or a sense that “nothing will happen.”

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports a decrease in the number of sexual harassment claims against law firms in the past years. In 2011 there was a high of 18 complaints. In 2017, there were only four reported.

The drop in claims may be due to a move by law firms to handle problems before they get big. Montani explained, “I’m seeing complaints being raised on a lower threshold” when misconduct is at “a level 3 instead of a level 8” so “the behavior is still manageable.”



Employers, including law firms, are more willing than before to dismiss employees accused of misconduct. Montani said, “If an employee has three verified complaints” for midlevel offenses that don’t include allegations of a major offense, employers will dismiss the employee.

Those trying to be proactive are turning to harassment training in the workplace. Even with the increase in law firms trying to take care of harassment before it becomes an issue, it still happens. The Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association Survey found that roughly 38 percent of respondents received an unwanted email, text, or instant message of a sexual nature at work. Around 21 percent claim to have experienced or witnessed unwelcome physical contact at work. The numbers were consistent across all law firm sizes and respondent ages. Of the over 1,200 attorneys that answered the survey, 80 percent were women.

Do you think anti-harassment training helps? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about the #MeToo movement’s effect on law firms, read these articles:

Photo: pixabay.com



 

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