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Lawyers Club 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. Guidelines for writers may be found on the Leadership Resources page.

 

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You Can’t Make People Be Nice – But You Can Ask Them to Be Accountable: The Workplace Equity & Civility Initiative

Posted By Guest blogger Jen Rubin, Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, September 17, 2019

We cannot make people be nice, but we can certainly ask people to be accountable for trying to do better. If we make that commitment, we will make our workplaces better. These are the principles underlying the San Diego Lawyers Club Workplace Equity & Civility Initiative (“WE & CI”).


It occurred to me, early on in the WE & CI’s development, that we were simply asking employees and employers to follow the law. But naturally, it is more than that. The WE & CI is
an important step in rejecting the alarming but growing trend of normalizing bad behavior. The WE & CI provides a path to state, in positive and affirmative terms, that we will try to do better and hold ourselves and all employers accountable for our collective efforts to make our workplaces better.


The WE & CI has two simple components: First, pledge to do one’s best as an employer (and as an employee) to commit to better behavior in the workplace by adopting and enforcing certain policies that will naturally result in a more equitable workplace. The adoption of the WE & CI Commitment is an easy first step in this process. Second, commit to having at least half of an employer’s workforce attend National Conflict Resolution Center-developed training that promotes learning about civility in the workplace.


As an employment lawyer, I am frequently asked to advise clients about the legal implications of bad behavior in the workplace. The concept of “bad behavior” in the bullying, boorish and ill-mannered sense generally carries no legal consequences because “actionable” bad behavior must be grounded in a legal violation. In other words, a nasty supervisor who equally bullies people without regard to gender, race, sexual orientation or any other protected category, does not necessarily create legal risk for the employer. (Though, frequently they do create risk because of the natural insensitivity that accompanies those behaviors.) Bad behavior clearly impacts morale and productivity, but being a jerk does not always carry legal implications.


With that said, state and federal law unambiguously prohibit workplace discrimination (of which sexual harassment is only a subset). Here in California, beginning in 2020, employers of at least five or more employees must provide training – including anti-bullying training –to supervisors and non-supervisory employees. This robust training mandate does not create additional legal liability for engaging in offensive behavior nor does it insulate an employer from liability for such behavior.


We hope that accountability, together with formal group introspection and education, will lead to changes that elude legislation. Peer pressure motivates people to change their behavior. If business leaders set an example and make it clear that they will hold themselves and their employees accountable, then real change will transpire. It is our aim to promote full participation in the WE & CI from our regional employers with the  natural outcome of a civil, productive workplace. That workplace will lead to natural equity without legislation. Or, as we might say, a nicer workplace.

 


Jen Rubin is an employment partner with Mintz, and co-Chairs the San Diego Lawyers Club Workplace Equity & Civility Initiative with immediate past president of Lawyers Club Danna Cotman.

 

 

 

Tags:  bullying  civility  discrimination  employment law  equity  harassment  National Conflict Resolution Center  NCRC  respect  risk  training  Workplace Equity & Civility Initiative 

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Stories to Solutions: "What’s a Girl Boss to do When It’s Not Just Lunch? – Part I"

Posted By Chelsea Chatsworth, Wednesday, March 8, 2017

What’s a Girl Boss to do When It’s Not Just Lunch? – Part I

 

I endured various forms of sexual harassment during the early part of my career. I have decided to share one such incident here with you. 

 

I was a bright-eyed first year associate at a California law firm. Early on, the partners poured me a giant glass of Kool-Aid and I happily drank it down. The sweet beverage hit the spot. I could afford my student loans as well as excessive amounts of retail therapy (which is a good thing because I needed a lot of it)! I worked long hours and had dreams of making partner at said firm. At the time, I was too innocent to suspect the depravity that lingered just below the firm’s good marketing. However, I soon learned that the main ingredient in the Kool-Aid wasn’t electrolytes as advertised. It was poison that would slowly dampen my sweet soul. (Sorry to be all doomsday from the get-go, but stick with me.)

 

One day, I got an email from a partner named Mark* who I’d seen around the office from time to time. He was in his late 50’s (old enough to be my father), an expert in a complex area of law, powerful, rich (just ask him), and brilliant (again, just ask him). The email simply read, “Can I take you to lunch?” Mark was in luck because if my schedule allowed, I would always yes to those who outranked me. Such is life in the deferential world of law firms.

 

I viewed the email as a good opportunity given that I was in the market for a powerful advocate to facilitate my rise through the firm’s ranks. Perhaps Mark had heard good things about my work and wanted to be my mentor. Before our lunch, I studied Mark’s online bio like it was a job interview, tucking away smart questions for the inevitable lulls in our conversation. Example: “How did you land [insert Fortune 500 company] as your client? That’s so impressive [and so on and so forth, blah, blah, blah, just shoot me already].

 

I made my way to the lobby where our coworkers milled about like ants in a particularly high performing colony. I spotted Mark and extended my hand to greet him. To my surprise, he said, “Hi, sweetie.” Before I knew it, his face was getting closer to mine. Caught off-guard, I turned my cheek ever-so-slightly at the last second. His lips grazed the corner of my mouth and I stood stunned, thoughts racing through my mind. Why would he think it was ok to do that? Did he misread my body language? Can I gracefully bow out now? No, that would be too awkward.

 

Determined to turn the encounter around, I pressed onward. But before exiting the lobby, I noticed a few associates shooting disgusted glances my way. I can only imagine what they were thinking. Look at her, trying to sleep her way to the top. Then, I was stunned to see a partner in his 60’s wink at Mark, who in response, smiled slyly and placed his hand firmly on the small of my back.

 

We walked a block to a tiny restaurant filled with more coworkers. I prayed the next 50 minutes would fly by uneventfully. The lobby incident was mortifying and I couldn’t stomach much more unwelcome touching from this self-serving freak. The hostess showed us to a small table in the middle of the restaurant and I mentally cursed her for not taking pity on me and putting us in the back. Mark pulled out my chair, but I gently told him, “Thanks, but I’ve got it. I need to take my jacket off before I sit down.”

He replied, “Oh, I’ll help you with that.”

 

In the airiest possible tone I could muster, I said, “That’s ok, I prefer to do it myself.” He didn’t take no for an answer and stepped behind me, slipping my jacket over my shoulders and down my back, resting it on my chair. Oh. My. Gawd. Does he think this is a date? How could he have overlooked my sizeable wedding ring (as well as his own)?

 

The rest of the lunch was thankfully a bore, but the damage was done. Again, he guided me through the lobby with his hand in the small of my back. I frantically pushed the “up” button in the elevator, hurried off at my floor, and thanked him (for what, I wasn’t quite sure). I was flooded with anxiety. What weird signal was I giving off that made him try to kiss me on the mouth, touch me, call me “sweetie,” and take off an article of my clothing?

 

So began a two-year endeavor to avoid Mark. When I couldn’t avoid him, I was attempting to make the “friendship” work because he was so powerful. If I turned him down for too many lunches his feelings might get hurt, or worse, he might get mad and retaliate against me.

 

Hindsight being 20/20, I realized the only thing Mark found promising about me was my breasts. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only powerful man at the firm who would try to make himself look better by having me attached to his side. I never reported their behavior for fear that lodging a complaint would negatively affect my career. Would it be easier for the firm to get rid of the junior “complainer” associate or the harassing senior partners who brought boatloads of capital into the firm? Exactly.

 

I was a young associate ill-equipped to deal with this situation, but I hope you can learn from my naiveté. Check back next week to read Part II, the solutions to this story, “4 Practical Tips for Dealing with Creeps in the Workplace.”

 

XO,

CC

 

Do you think this type of bad behavior is decreasing or increasing? Let me know why you feel that way in the comments.

 

*Name changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

 

“Chelsea Chatsworth” is more than just a pretty face and a pen name, and she can be reached at chelseachatsworth@gmail.com.

Tags:  associate  firm  harassment  hostile work environment  LCB  partner  quid pro quo  stories to solutions  Sts 

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