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Stories to Solutions: "Stand Up, Speak Out, Take Action"

Posted By Jamie Quient, Monday, February 13, 2017
Stand Up, Speak Out, Take Action

“What’s your sexual fantasy?” 

Not exactly the question I expected to get from a partner at a law firm where I was interning in law school. But there I was, like I deer caught in headlights, expected to answer in front of a group of colleagues at a work-sponsored function. 

I was interning at a well-respected law firm. I was getting great experience, learning a lot and really enjoying the job. Towards the end of the summer, the law firm had its annual day at the Padres game. I couldn’t tell you who they played or what the final score was. But I sure remember what happened after the game. 

After the game was over, some people went home, but most of the firm’s attorneys and staff were still going strong. The remaining group migrated to the Tilted Kilt. If you haven’t been there, it’s basically an Irish-themed Hooters with scantily-clad waitresses in crop tops and mini-skirt kilts. 

Soon after we arrived, a partner ordered a round of tequila shots for everyone there. I politely handed my shot to someone else. Needless to say, the tequila shots took the group to another level. And that’s when it happened. The same partner that ordered the tequila shots asked me and the other two female interns – in front of the entire group – to share our sexual fantasy. I tried several times to change the subject and do whatever I could to avoid answering, but he wouldn’t let it go. I finally answered curtly and briefly and he let me off the hook. 

Mortified does not begin to describe how I felt at that moment. I had worked so hard to be there, getting good grades, getting onto Law Review and doing an assortment of extracurricular activities. At that moment, none of that mattered. I was nothing more than a sexual object there for the entertainment and pleasure of others. 

This is just one experience, among others, I have faced in my legal career where I was treated in a manner that would not have happened if I was a man. It’s not just individuals we work with – it’s everyone around us – opposing counsel, witnesses, and clients. 

When we face these encounters, most of the time we simply brush it off and keep it to ourselves. We don’t report it. We don’t tell anyone. We just suck it up and move on. There are many reasons women choose not to speak up. The biggest reason is fear of retaliation or wrongful termination. 

There’s also the fear that if you speak up, you will not be believed. Too often it takes several people to report misconduct by the same individual before the allegations are viewed as “legitimate.”  Worse yet, the individual reporting mistreatment can face further harm in the response which can amount to “victim-blaming” and “slut-shaming” – essentially pointing the finger at the victim saying that she somehow brought this upon herself. Sometimes, it’s easier to leave the job, should you have that luxury, than to speak up and risk not only that job, but your professional reputation and ability to attain future employment. 

In my case, I was just starting out my legal career and knew that if I said anything it could negatively impact my legal career. So rather than report the incident or confront my harasser, I kept it to myself. Even now, despite the fact that I do not work at this firm, I am still uncomfortable sharing it. 

These experiences have made me keenly aware that despite all of the gains women in the legal field and other professions, we are still far from equal. Women in the workplace still experience sexual harassment, sexism, bullying, and gender discrimination every day. Each of these gender issues involves a different form of behavior. The common link is that they are all a means through which women are treated less than equal from their male counterparts. 

Lawyers Club launched the #EnoughisEnough campaign in July 2016 to find solutions to these issues. While there is no silver bullet to ending the mistreatment of women in the workplace, what is clear is that as leaders in the feminist movement, we can be part of the solution if we speak up, speak out, and take action!

Stand Up
I decided to share my story because we have to. The more I have spoken up about these issues, the more apparent it is that many people simply do not realize how often these things happen. This is true among men and women alike, but more often it is those in positions of power that are the most surprised when they learn this is happening. They typically do not see it happen, and if no one speaks up, how could they know? 

We also need to speak up to protect those that follow us from the same mistreatment. As we have learned from the stories of career-sexual harassers in the media, if we leave without saying something, they will continue to harass others. I hope that sharing my story helps others have more courage than I had to speak up and call out the behavior. While hindsight is 20/20, in retrospect, I would have approached my harasser after the incident and told him that his question made me feel like a sexual object, not a lawyer. I would have said, “if you wouldn’t say or do something to a man, then please don’t say or do it to me. I want to be treated with the same dignity and respect as you treat my male counterparts.” Period.

Speak Out
We must also speak out when we see others face these issues. Looking back at my experience at the Tilted Kilt, I can’t help but wonder why no one else spoke up. I was a law clerk – I was not comfortable calling out this behavior – and not quick enough on my feet to think of a better response. Someone else in a position of power could have chimed in and found a tactful or funny way to deflect the question. I do not know if anyone said anything after the fact, but I highly doubt it. We all need to be there to stand up for our colleagues and speak truth to power. We also have a legal duty to report sexual harassment when we observe it or learn of it.

Take Action
The only way we will be able to create an environment where those who experience sexual harassment or other unequal treatment to speak up or get others to speak out on their behalf is if those in a position of power take action when these issues arise. Employers must ensure their employees feel safe to come forward without fear of retaliation and that their report will be taken seriously. If an employee has the courage to report an incident and the employer fails to take adequate measures to address this issue, it is worse than if they had never reported it.

As we move forward with the #EnoughisEnough campaign, we will continue to speak up, speak out, and take action. This campaign will continue with our Stories to Solutions Blog Series, “Solutions Summit” in the spring and will culminate at the Lawyers Club Annual Dinner on June 1, 2017 themed “Speak Up, Speak Out, Take Action.” 


This blog is authored by Jamie Quient, President of Lawyers Club of San Diego, and was originally published as the President's Message in the February 2017 Newsletter.

Tags:  enough is enough  LCB  sexual harassment  stories to solutions 

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Comments on this post...

Bhashini Weerasinghe says...
Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Jamie, thank you for sharing your story. Unfortunately, a lot of us have faced some form of sexual harassment in our careers. The other unfortunate thing we all have in common is that we internalize it and blame ourselves, second guess what we "should have done", or "normalize it" and say, that's just how it is. Ironically, women bend over backward not to reveal the names of our harassers but the women who speak up have their names tarnished. I think the obvious thing here is that it was not your fault. Sad thing is that no one else, more senior to you spoke up. This is something we should all look out for. As attorneys, we are natural advocates and should be standing up when we see something intolerable.
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