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Lawyers of San Diego is a specialty bar association committed to advancing the status of women in the law and society. We use this space to share articles written about Lawyers Club events and programs and items of interest to our members which are relevant to our mission. The opinions outlined in content published on the Lawyers Club of San Diego blog are those of the authors and not of Lawyers Club. All members are encouraged to participate respectfully in discussions regarding the topics posted on the blog. Guest writers are welcome.

 

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The Nation’s Best Legal Commentator: What I Learned Through Muppet Theory

Posted By Guest Blogger Haylee Saathoff, Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Have you ever thought about what kind of Muppet you are? I can admit, before learning that this year’s Annual Dinner speaker was Dahlia Lithwick, I had not. Dahlia Lithwick is an accomplished, experienced journalist, and, for lack of a better term, a downright cool woman. She has made her career as a journalist, covering law and politics. She was front and center in covering Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, and was even the subject of one of her own columns when she bravely shared her own #metoo story. In 2018, Lithwick was awarded the 2018 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism and referred to as, “the nation’s best legal commentator for two decades.”

Ironically, though, one of her more viral articles was not actually one of her strictly legal or political pieces. Lithwick has remarked that the piece most repeated to her, brought up in conversation, and remembered by readers has nothing to do with the decisions of the Supreme Court or the political happenings of the last twenty years. It has to do with the Muppets. Yes, the Muppets.

In 2012, Lithwick wrote an article for Slate, the outlet where she is currently senior editor, called “Chaos Theory: A Unified Theory of Muppet Types.” The heart of the piece is this: there are only Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets, and we are all one of the two. Once you know which type of Muppet you are, you will have it all figured out –whom you should marry, what your job should be, all of it.

While I cannot say I have it all figured out, I can say that when I read Lithwick’s piece on Chaos Theory, I did not even have to reach the end before I had already self-identified as an Order Muppet. You are either order (like Kermit the Frog, Bert) or chaos (like Miss Piggy, Ernie, Animal), and to me, the choice was glaringly obvious. Maybe to others less so, or maybe it is easier to identify the people around you, your spouses, friends, family, and colleagues, than it is to identify yourself.

One of my favorite lines from Lithwick’s piece on Muppet Theory is, “It is hard to be ruthlessly honest when evaluating one’s own Muppet Classification. As is the case when going shopping for white pants, your best bet is probably just to trust a friend.” Her writing style is one reason why I think Lithwick is a downright cool woman. She sets an example that you can be funny, creative, smart, and serious all at once. That you can write about Supreme Court decisions that change the foundation of our country one day, and the Muppets the next. And you know what? You can go back to the Supreme Court the day after that.

As a woman at the beginning of my career, I sometimes worry that the only way to be taken seriously is to be, well, serious. Dahlia Lithwick’s career and work is a testament to the fact that the personality you show in your work may just be what others remember about you. It is entirely possible to be both creative and by-the-book, both funny and serious; these are not “either/or” options. Really, the only “either/or” option is your Muppet Type—you are either Order or Chaos, and you are definitely one of the two.

Lawyers Club of San Diego is delighted to feature Lithwick as this year’s Annual Dinner speaker on May 9, 2019. Tickets are on sale now, click here to register.

 

Haylee Saathoff is a labor and employment attorney at Fisher Phillips and a member of San Diego Lawyers Club’s Annual Dinner Committee.

 

 

 

Tags:  Annual Dinner  chaos  Dahlia Lithwick  guest blogger  legal profession  MeToo  muppets  order  women 

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California Mandates Female Representation on Public Company Boards

Posted By Jen Rubin, Wednesday, November 7, 2018

On September 30, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the nation’s first gender mandate for female representation on public company boards. The law requires public companies headquartered in California (as reported in the company’s 10k) to attain certain minimal gender thresholds by the end of 2019.

In his signing statement, Governor Brown noted, “given all the special privileges that corporations have enjoyed for so long, it is high time that corporate boards include the people who constitute half the persons in America.” He also copied the Senate Judiciary Committee on his signing statement, noting that recent events in Washington DC and beyond made clear that “many were not getting the message.”

Of course, the message is that given the important role women play in society, they should naturally occupy some of the highest positions available in corporate America – seats literally at the tables of public company boards.

The new law is not without challenges. Categorizing individuals based on protected characteristics, such as gender, must withstand the “strict scrutiny” constitutional test which requires the government to demonstrate that no other method is readily available to address a social harm and the law is as narrowly tailored as possible to remedy that harm. Whether this law will pass constitutional muster remains to be seen.

The quotas inherent in the new law have also triggered debate regarding whether legislation is the best (or only) solution to the board representation problem that appears to plague corporate America. But the reality is that women may not be considered for board positions because the recruiters for those positions may not look in places that produce female candidates. The law requires public company boards to look harder for qualified candidates.

Another debatable aspect of the new law is its impact on shareholders’ decisions concerning who runs their companies. But, that argument underscores the existence of de facto institutionalized prejudice. Candidates for board seats on public companies are expected to possess operational experience (in business and finance), real-world company leadership experience at an elevated level, and a special or unique industry expertise that will enhance the business’ value. With so many opportunities to obtain that kind of experience historically foreclosed to women, someone had to make the first move because the problem wasn’t solving itself.

Here, again, #MeToo may have tipped the scales. It is common knowledge that gender-diverse boards (and management teams) have a salutary impact on professional and civil behavior in workplaces, which in turn result in lower incidents of harassment and other sexually-based workplace behaviors. Other data suggests that boards with gender diversity make companies both more productive and profitable.

Whether California’s legislative solution to the lack of gender diversity on public company boards will survive legal challenge remains to be seen. In the meantime, the gender mandate for boards is an important attempt to craft a legislative solution to this issue.


Jen Rubin co-chairs San Diego Lawyers Club’s Sexual Harassment Task Force, she is a partner with Mintz practicing employment law, and she advises boards of directors on a variety of employment and gender-related issues.

 

Tags:  California  corporate boards  gender mandate  Governor Jerry Brown  MeToo  public company boards 

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#WhyIDidntReport

Posted By Jenn French, Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A few weeks ago, the President of the United States mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on his Twitter feed. In response, women throughout the country began to share their #WhyIDidntReport stories. Padma Lakshmi courageously shared her story in the New York Times. I shared mine too, on Twitter and Instagram. And nearly every single woman I know chimed in with #MeToo, with stories ranging from sexual assault to gender discrimination. I wish I could tell you this was my only #MeToo experience.

In the early months of 1999, I had just returned back to campus after winter break. I was newly single, having just broke up with my first “real” boyfriend in college, and the first person with whom I’d had sexual intercourse. I was briefly living in what we called a “single double” - my roommate had moved out the previous semester and my new roommate had not yet moved in. Ironically, I lived next door to the resident advisor.

I don’t remember much about that night. I know it was cold, and I’m pretty sure there was snow on the ground. I remember walking across campus to a fraternity house with two male friends. I know that I drank a lot that night. I was trying to hang with the guys, and my newly-single-self wanted to have fun. I’d met my ex-boyfriend in the first few weeks of college, so this was the first time I felt like I could really let loose. I was a “high functioning drinker” – I didn’t slur my words and stayed reasonably coherent, which meant that my friends often didn’t realize how drunk I really was.

One of the guys I was with that night was not drinking at the party. I had met him a few times but didn’t know him well. Due to the passage of time, and the alcohol I had consumed, I am hazy on the details. (This is a blessing and a curse.) What I do know is that he walked me back to my dorm room, just the two of us. I remember snapshots of what happened next. The blasting heat in my Wisconsin dorm room in sharp contrast to the cold winter air blowing in from the slightly open window. Trying to explain that I didn’t want to have sex. That I’d only done it with one person. I remember him telling me that it was okay. Everything was okay. He was a nice guy. We were friends. We were just having fun. What I don’t remember is whether he used a condom. I hate that I can’t remember this detail.

The next day I woke up confused and sore. I couldn’t understand why I would have had sex with him. It wasn’t in my character, but I was so drunk. I barely remembered the walk back to my dorm room. I don’t remember using my key to open the door. I don’t remember ever consenting, and I know today that I was too drunk to be legally capable of consent.

I went to a very small school, and within twenty-four hours, everyone knew what had happened. A “friend” I had met through my ex-boyfriend started rumors about me. She told everyone about what happened with this man and called me a slut. I was mortified and ashamed. But the worst part is that I believed her. I thought it was my fault. I was drunk. No one forced me to drink. We went to a party together. I assumed that I let him into my room, although I didn’t remember.

I didn’t tell a soul about what really happened. I ended up transferring to a different school and becoming a bartender, which opened me up to a whole other world of sexual harassment and assault. In late 2002, I finally sought therapy. I am forever grateful to my counselor, Lynn, for helping me see, for the first time, that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t consent.

I was raped.

Why didn’t I report what happened to me? Surely this is a rhetorical question after the confirmation of sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh to our nation’s highest court. I was drunk, he was sober. I didn’t remember the details. I couldn’t tell you the exact date that it happened. I don’t even remember his last name. People saw us leave together and “I seemed fine.” And before I had a chance to think about reporting, everyone already heard a different version of the story: that I was a slut who wanted it to happen.

Why didn’t I report what happened to me? I knew that no one would believe me.

When I shared my story on social media, a well-meaning male friend commented that I could still report; even though the statute of limitations had run out, at least the man who raped me would have that on his record. This is something I never would have considered before Dr. Ford’s testimony, and something that I would never consider after the hearing. I went to college in a small town in Wisconsin. I can only imagine the jeering questions I’d get calling from California to report a 19-year-old sexual assault.

Like many women, I am shaking with anger at the outcome of this nomination process. I am outraged by the women, like Senator Susan Collins, who continue to prop up the patriarchy. These women enable sexual predators by saying things like, “boys will be boys” and “she must be confused, poor thing.” I am furious that 50 senators voted yes for a man who lied under oath, who was credibly accused of assaulting several women, whose demeanor revealed that he is objectively unfit to hold judicial office. And I am furious that those in power pushed this nomination through in record time with the specific intent to circumvent the November 6th election and to prevent Americans from weighing in on this crucial nomination—especially after what happened with Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination. The hypocrisy is astounding and infuriating.

Here’s one thing I know for sure: I’m glad that I finally shared my story. I’m not sorry that I did so, even though it didn’t prevent the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh. I feel free, I feel lighter. And I feel solidarity with so many of my sisters who shared their stories and all those who are still too afraid to do so. I know that our conversations are not in vain, and I hope that, through these conversations, we can change this culture of toxic masculinity so that our daughters can say #NotMe, instead of #MeToo.

To my fellow survivors: I see you. I hear you. I believe you. You are not alone. And we will take back our government from those who believe that women’s lives are not as valuable as men’s lives. Please make sure that you are registered to vote, and vote for pro-choice candidates who will fight for equality on November 6, 2018. And after you’ve taken the time for self-care, please join us as we Demand Equality. The Women’s Advocacy and Reproductive Justice Committees provide excellent opportunities to channel your rage and disappointment into action.

Jenn French owns her own practice focused on civil litigation and handles pro-bono asylum cases through Casa Cornelia Law Center and co-chairs San Diego Lawyers Club’s Reproductive Justice Committee with Brigid Campo.

 

Tags:  Christine Blasey Ford  demand equality  Kavanaugh  MeToo  rape  reporting  reproductive justice  senate  sexual assault  Supreme Court  survivor  whyIdidntreport  women’s advocacy 

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Lawyers Club urges Senate to delay vote on Judge Kavanaugh

Posted By Lawyers Club of San Diego, by Danna Cotman, President, Thursday, September 27, 2018

One, then two, now three and four accusers. As Shakespeare said, truth will out; however, bringing that truth to the light sooner than later is worth demanding. See the most recent way Lawyers Club demands equality in connection with nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. How are you demanding equality?


Read our letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee below and here.

 
 

Tags:  equality  justice  LCB  metoo  SCOTUS 

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Why the outing of sexual harassers is not enough

Posted By Olga Álvarez, Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Why the outing of sexual harassers is not enough

 

Originally published in the San Diego Union Tribune

 

As the #Metoo campaign unfolds and the lives of powerful men crumble before our very eyes, Time magazine has made the bold choice to select the Silence Breakers as Persons of the Year. Like many feminists, I applaud the magazine’s choice, but my cheer is tempered by caution. To be sure, the outing of the most brazen and most powerful of sexual harassers may be vindicating to women who have suffered in silence for so long. But to me, the key challenge is not determining how to proportionately punish the harassers, nor is it how we can better nip harassment in the bud, or even how to prevent a culture of harassment from blossoming in the workplace. Instead, the more relevant, albeit the more vexing problem is, what makes our industries – from media to academia, from entertainment to law – so ripe for sexual harassment?

 

The problem is broader than any one industry, and broader even than the workplace. We know that sexual harassment and sexual violence exists in our schools, religious institutions, and even our homes. Regrettably, our culture has failed to keep pace with feminist ideals of personal choice and self-determination. Our media, our education system, our entertainment and our laws, routinely objectify, commodify, and regulate the bodies of women. The outing of serial harassers in newsrooms, legislatures and Hollywood demonstrates that in far too many industries, sexual violence is the norm and victim-blaming is commonplace: the very definition of a rape culture. We not only blame women; we don’t believe them.

 

In June, Anita Hill headlined Lawyers Club’s Annual Dinner. In 1991, a 35-year-old Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. The committee, led by Joe Biden and comprised entirely of white men, eagerly cross-examined Ms. Hill about her sex life, why she “allowed” the harassment to continue, and, of course, why she hadn’t come forward sooner with these allegations? Why, indeed. (Joe Biden offered a half-hearted apology to Anita Hill in recent weeks, no doubt encouraged by the number of news stories about sexual harassment.)  In the recent past, women and men coming forward with harassment allegations against powerful men have been derided by the accused as liars, extortionists, too undesirable to harass, oversensitive and of course, the perennial favorite, crazy.

 

So, why don’t more women come forward? Because we can be certain that our personal lives will be combed through by lawyers and reporters; that our careers will be snuffed out before they’ve begun; that we will be terminated from our jobs for making trouble; that too many of us do not understand our rights, and even if we did, we can’t access a lawyer, can’t afford a lawyer, and really can’t afford to lose our jobs.  As a society, we need to ask smarter questions. Questions like, “Why would he do such a thing?” and “How can we help you through this?” rather than “What did you do to lead him on / deserve this?” “Were you in a room alone with him?” or “What were you wearing?” (Brock Turner’s rape victim, famously, wore a cardigan, as if that were the point.)

 

Instead of perpetuating a culture where victims of sexual harassment and abuse are blamed and the perpetrator’s actions are excused, every one of us must take responsibility for changing it. Better laws and stronger policies are necessary but insufficient on their own. Often, laws and policies focus on how to address harassment after the fact. Of course, perfecting those remedies is critical. But what is really needed is to ask how we can prevent harassment from occurring in the first place. 

Part of the answer, of course, is buy-in from the top. The C-suite, the managing partner, the agency director, need to make clear to the organization that workplace harassment will not be tolerated.  More broadly, though, we need to both develop and teach empathy, communication skills, and problem-solving skills to our children well before they enter the workforce. We must offer intellectually honest sex education curricula which emphasize healthy sexual behavior, self-respect and respect for others. Respect is anathema to objectification, the act of treating a person as an object without regard to their personhood or dignity.

 

Our harassment problem is, at its core, an objectification problem. Only when – and if – our society resolves to treat women as people, and by this I mean people who are fully capable of bodily self-determination, whose value is not defined by the male gaze, who deserve equal pay for equal work, will we be addressing the root cause of sexual harassment in a meaningful and holistic way.

 

Olga Álvarez is co-founder and shareholder of Heisner Álvarez, APC in La Jolla. She is a Certified Legal Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law and is president of Lawyers Club.

Tags:  LCB  legal profession  metoo  sexual harassment 

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Guest Blog: Combatting Sexual Harassment

Posted By Guest Blogger, Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Combatting Sexual Harassment

 

Daily news feeds are filled with stories of women coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment in a variety of industries. Allegations in the tech and entertainment industries have made headlines, but these issues equally impact attorneys.

Several issues contribute to sexual harassment in the legal profession:

o   36% of attorneys are women

o   18% of law firm equity partners are women

o   18% of managing partners are women

o   24.8% of general counsels at Fortune 500 companies are women

o   19.8% of general counsels at Fortune 501-1000 companies are women

o   31.1% of law school deans are women

  • Pay Inequity:  Pay inequity persists. Some female attorneys at high-profile firms have filed claims (and won settlements) alleging they are not paid equally despite the same level of experience, output and contribution. 
  • The Continuing Prevalence of Unchecked Behavior:  Over the last 12 months, public scandals in the technology and entertainment sectors reveal a pattern of powerful men engaging in offensive behavior. Several stories involve enablers who sat by silently--or worse, helped or rewarded harassers. The Harvey Weinstein scandal shows that many in Hollywood knew about his abhorrent behavior, but kept it a secret. Fox News renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract amid the Roger Ailes scandal, even after O’Reilly allegedly settled a harassment claim for $32 million.
  • Weak Attempts to Address the Issue:  Claiming a “commitment to a harassment-free workplace” will not cut it. Simply implementing requirements that a law firm will not tolerate unlawful behavior fails to address the underlying issue – that harassment thrives in cultures that turn the other way when allegations are raised. Decision-makers must stop viewing human resources as the department that exists to “protect the company.”

The #metoo campaign enabled millions to share their personal stories. This is a wake-up call.


Now is the time for solutions. Lawyers Club is hosting a Solutions Summit on November 3rd. The event will bring together industry experts, legal professionals, professors and students to robustly discuss these vital issues. The conference will focus on finding practical and viable solutions.

 

Topics that will be covered:

  • How to recruit allies
  • Practical tools and resources
  • How to change workplace culture, with the support of leadership

This is the beginning of a long journey. Join us on November 3rd to be a part of the solution.

 

Guest blogger Patti Perez is the Founder and President of PersuasionPoint Inc.

Tags:  Bill O'Reilly  Fox News  Harvey Weinstein  human resources  LCB  legal profession  metoo  Roger Ailes  sexual harassment  solutions  summit 

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more Calendar

10/24/2019
Fall Judicial Reception

10/31/2019
COC's Halloween Read-In

11/6/2019
Taste of North County: North and Mid-County Committee Mixer

12/11/2019
Fund For Justice Luncheon

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