Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 21

"

We are standing here
on the precipice of our
careers looking at the
options, and we think
we have no choice but
to do something.

But since the MeToo movement, many employers are realizing that their
earlier efforts to squelch harassment and discrimination were inadequate.
Organizations are paying attention to the way the national conversation has
changed, says Kara M. Maciel, chair of the labor and employment practice
group at Conn Maciel Carey LLP in Washington, D.C.
"The MeToo movement has had a profound impact on the way that companies
do business," Maciel says. "There's been a shift from a defensive, protective
mode to a strong interest in taking another look at policies, procedures, and
training pertaining to harassment in the workplace."
Maciel adds that companies "are starting to ask bigger questions like, 'How
do we want to be viewed externally?' and 'How can we create an atmosphere
where our employees feel protected?' And companies are really looking at how
they can create a culture of civility in the workplace."
Amy Bess, a shareholder in the Washington, D.C., office of Vedder Price and
chair of the firm's labor and employment practice, agrees that employers "are
beginning to really appreciate that they have an obligation to ensure that all
employees feel safe in their work environment." She says that employers are
realizing they need to create policies and a culture that empower victims of
harassment and discriminatory behavior to speak up without fear of retaliation.
However, Goss Graves says that some law firms can be slow to understand the
depth of the problem and the reasons that individuals, especially lawyers, may
choose to stay silent about sexual harassment and discrimination. "In the legal
profession, there is a real concern that people who speak up about harassment
or other workplace issues will experience retaliation not just in their law firm,
but also in their careers," she says. "People are worried that should they speak
up, they would then be barred from success in another job. After all, it is a small
profession where, in many ways, everyone knows each other. I have heard
lawyers say that they don't want to be the ones to take these conversations
out of the whispers and shadows. But that's what has to happen."
Goss Graves emphasizes that law firms need to seek information about how all
employees are experiencing the firm culture, rather than "bury their heads in
the sand." Armed with that information, firms can then create a plan that makes
sense, ensuring an intelligent, accessible reporting process. It's up to leadership,
says Goss Graves, to set the tone for the entire firm, including communicating
the message that retaliation for reporting is unacceptable.
"All firms need to take a step back and really look at themselves," she says. "Even
if you have no complaints, that doesn't mean you don't have a problem. In fact,
it could mean the exact opposite. It could mean that people are too afraid to
come forward and tell you what's going on."

"

Employers are beginning
to really appreciate that
they have an obligation
to ensure that all
employees feel safe in
their work environment.
AMY BESS, Shareholder
Vedder Price

Photos: Kara M. Maciel, courtesy of Conn Maciel Carey LLP; Amy Bess, courtesy of Vedder Price;
Vail Kohnert-Yount, courtesy of Vail Kohnert-Yount

VAIL KOHNERT-YOUNT, student
Harvard Law School

RIGHTING POWER IMBALANCES
The MeToo movement has had some setbacks in the past year. Women's rights
advocates say they felt disappointed in how the Senate handled sexual assault
allegations against then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Many female
lawyers and law students believed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's account of an alleged
sexual assault by Kavanaugh and found the Senate's confirmation to be dismissive.
In addition, law students like Kohnert-Yount were particularly upset by multiple
misconduct allegations by former clerks and junior staffers against former U.S.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.
Both situations reminded Kohnert-Yount that "the people holding power in
the legal field and in the country are the people not on the side of justice." But
Kohnert-Yount says allegations against Kozinski and Kavanaugh have increased
her resolve to keep fighting for equity in the workplace.
Indeed, the MeToo movement has shined a spotlight on the power imbalance
that can lead to harassment and discrimination in the workplace, advocates say.
"The best way for any employer to transform the workplace is to ensure that
women have an equal seat at the table," says Bess. "Workplaces that have
women in senior positions tend to have far fewer sexual harassment problems."
Goss Graves agrees, adding that no matter what kind of reporting process the
firm creates, there's already a message being sent to associates, staff, and potential employees if there isn't diversity at the leadership level. "Harassment and
violence are symptoms of dramatic power imbalances," she says. "Law firms and
companies will have to address the serious inequities in hiring, promotion, and
culture. People in leadership should look around the room and think deeply
about how is it that they don't have diversity in their leadership."
In the meantime, law firm partners and company executives who claim to want
an equitable workplace can take an easy first step, says Peter Whelan, an employment law attorney and partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Bernabei & Kabat,
PLLC. Listen to the law students at Harvard and other law schools. Get rid of arbitration agreements that silence the most powerless of employees.
The members of the Pipeline Parity Project say they have no intention of
backing down. "The people of my generation know what the problem is, and
we won't stand idly by," says Kohnert-Yount. "This is why I went to law school
- to dismantle the systems that keep people down."
It's shocking, adds Whelan, that "law firms are going to force law students to
drag them kicking and screaming to make the changes they should have made
years ago."

Anna Stolley Persky is a regular contributor to Washington Lawyer.

*

MARCH 2019

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WASHINGTON LAWYER

21


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Washington Lawyer - March 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - March 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Government & Gavel
The Women's Wave & Its Effects on Politics
Features: #Me Too & A Time Of Reckoning for the Law
Feature: Righting The Gender Imbalance In Big Law
Feature: A Day in The Life of Two Women Lawyers
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Efect
Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Government & Gavel
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - The Women's Wave & Its Effects on Politics
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Features: #Me Too & A Time Of Reckoning for the Law
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Feature: Righting The Gender Imbalance In Big Law
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 24
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Feature: A Day in The Life of Two Women Lawyers
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 28
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 30
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 32
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 42
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - The Pro Bono Efect
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - March 2019 - 48
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