8 Women Who Fought (Or Still Fight) Sexual Harassment in the Law Profession

8 Women Who Fought (Or Still Fight) Sexual Harassment in the Law Profession 2

sexual assault in law firmsJan McCreal*

The #MeToo campaign that has caught the law profession in its net has seen a number of women lawyers – some practising still, some not, who have spoken up about their own experiences in being harassed in the workplace.

report conducted jointly by the TUC and Everyday Sexism found that 52% of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, nearly a quarter had been touched without invitation, a fifth had experienced a sexual advance.

An earlier study by the law firm Slater and Gordon found that 60% of women had experienced inappropriate behaviour and nearly half of respondents had been warned to expect problematic behaviour from a particular person when they arrived.

A LegalWeek survey last year in the UK revealed that ore than two-thirds of women lawyers had experienced sexual harassment problems.

Here 8 of them –

Anita Hill –

anita hill lawfuel
Source: The Atlantic

Professor Anita Hill had alleged that Clarence Thomas, subsequently US Supreme Court Associate Justice, while her boss at the Department of Education and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, had sexually harassed her with pornographic suggestions, including descriptions of his own sexual prowess.

The allegations Hill had made about Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the Supreme Court. Hill’s private allegations to the Committee and to the FBI had been leaked to the press.

8 Women Who Fought (Or Still Fight) Sexual Harassment in the Law Profession 3
CLarence Thomas


THe 1991 allegations would be seen quite differently.  She told Variety, “in today’s atmosphere, there would be more people who would understand my story, who would believe my story, and I think the numbers have changed over the year in terms of people who believe me and support me,” Hill said. “We cannot underestimate the impact that those hearings had, even though the vote did not go the way most of us wanted.”

Thousands of sexual harassment complaints were filed in the wake of her testimony before the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee which was, as the Washington Post described “one of the most surreal moments in U.S. political history, with testimony about breast sizes, sex with animals and someone named Long Dong Silver.”

But at least we`re now recognizing the issue and taking it seriously, she told Fortune.  “I think we are in the middle of this conversation right now in a way we weren’t 25 years ago,” she said.

2. Juliette Youngblood –

8 Women Who Fought (Or Still Fight) Sexual Harassment in the Law Profession 4Former San Francisco lawyer Juliette Youngblood sued her former firm Irell & Manella for sexual harassment as well as sexual discrimination and retaliation.  The in a high profile lawsuit was against IP litigator and high profile Irell & Manella rainmaker and ostensibly brilliant Morgan Chu.

Youngblood, herself a very successful LA entertainment lawyer who has gone on to greater success since the 2011 lawsuit, alleged that Chu had sexually harassed her and retailiated against her when she rejected his advances.

A partner in the firm, she alleged that she was substantially underpaid when she took maternity leave and was not credited for any time when so occupied.  More significantly, she made her specific allegations about Chu’s sexually explicit references to her, including at a firm “happy hour” when he was clearly under the influence of alcohol.

According to an AbovetheLaw report Juliette Youngblood made a variety of serious allegations involving her treatment including payment and gender discrimination issues, which went to arbitration and when an award was made in favor of Irell & Manella and the matter was dismissed with prejudice.


3. Gloria Allred –

8 Women Who Fought (Or Still Fight) Sexual Harassment in the Law Profession 5The fearless lawyer fighting for the alleged victims of sexual assault, Gloria Allred is one of America’s most famed attorneys who has put Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump in her sights while she has already taken on the Catholic Church and the Boy Scout movement.

She has spent over 40 years as a ‘feminist lawyer’ fighting for the rights of women.

She told The Guardian – “For every individual you see me speak with where the individual I’m representing, the client, is speaking out about a high-profile figure, there are probably 50 who contact me who never want their name to be known, who never want the name of the high-profile figure to be known.

“They are seeking compensation for the harm that has been inflicted upon them, but they are seeking a confidential settlement. That is respected by us.”

“I’ll just keep going and encouraging everyone to resist and insist and persist.”

#Metoo Tip:  Knowledge Is Power

Learn your rights so you can make an informed decision about whether to assert them. Many worry if they talk to a lawyer, something is going to happen. That’s not possible: Legal advice is confidential—the lawyer cannot disclose or take steps without your consent. Don’t let fear be the weapon that causes you continued suffering—fear only benefits the predator.

Finally, a Bit of Free Legal Advice

A number of people posting #MeToo are naming names. Some who post may be sued for defamation, libel, or slander. Everybody has a right to say these things online, but many are taking on a lot of risk, often for very little reward.

karen holden
Image: Workingmums.co.uk

4. Karen Holden

Founder of a London-based law firm handling employment law and sexual harassment cases, as well as acting for entrepreneurs, Karen Holden, is one an expert commentator on sexual harassment.

Having represented many victims of sexual harassment, she advises clients to keep a diary and record everything…including times, dates and comments made.

“Evidence is key in establishing any case, and even though many acts of sexual harassment occur without an audience or witnesses, recording this information could lead to evidencing the bigger picture.

“Retain photos/medical evidence if you are depressed or if you have suffered physical contact; save emails; make notes of conversations; and write down the names of individuals who may have overheard or seen the action.”

Harassers also tend to have more than one victim, she says.  “Try not to be alone with your harasser, remain in sight of other people, tell the individual to stop. As difficult as it may be, directly telling the individual that you do not tolerate this behaviour makes it clear that the action is no longer ‘banter’ or a joke.

“Doing this publicly further supports your position.”

If dealing with an HR department is difficult, as it can be, then she suggests at least putting the matter in writing which should result in a reputable employer dealing with the issue rather than brushing it aside.


8 Women Who Fought (Or Still Fight) Sexual Harassment in the Law Profession 65. Jenna Vardi

An employment lawyer with Maurice Blackburn in Melbourne, Jenna Vardi experienced sexual harassment

“I had done a seasonal clerkship at a large corporate law firm and a few of us had overheard some of the male lawyers talking about the fresh meat that was coming through and physical appearances and who might be easy prey at a Christmas party,” she said.

“That was really confronting and really upsetting, but what to do in that situation? It’s really difficult.”

She said sexual harassment of an individual was usually not a one-off event.

“It will often start with comments that [younger staff] will shrug aside,” she said.

“It will include discussions about their partner, what they are doing on the weekend and suddenly someone is brushing up against them in the office.”

Ms Vardi said if the behaviour continued the perpetrator would get a level of confidence and the harassment could escalate.


6. Kristen Johnson –

In April last year, a former senior associate of Squire Patton Boggs took to social media site Reddit to announce her resignation from the law firm, calling the legal industry “male-dominated.” In an explosive post that garnered thousands of responses, Kristen Jarvis Johnson wrote that she “encountered blatant gender discrimination, sexual harassment and a very clear glass ceiling” during her nine years at the international law firm.

Her post sharing her experiences of working as a woman in a large law firm resonated deeply with Reddit users, many of whom were lawyers.

Squire Patton Boggs countered her comments by pointing out that 12 of the most recent 29 partner promotions at the firm were women. A spokesman said, “We are committed to a firm culture that promotes full and equal participation, advancement and retention of women.”

While Johnson did not file a claim against Squire Patton Boggs, a growing number of female attorneys from big law firms have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment following the high-profile sexual assault lawsuit brought by a former Faruqi & Faruqi LLP associate. In February 2015, a jury ruled that the law firm and its senior partner Juan Monteverde were partially liable for creating a hostile work environment. However, plaintiff Alexandra Marchuk won only $140,000 in damages, merely a fraction of the $9 million she had originally sought.

Marchuk had accused Monteverde of subjecting her to unwanted requests for oral sex, making vulgar jokes in the presence of coworkers and sexually assaulting her after a drunken holiday party. While the law firm argued that Marchuk was lying in an effort to win a hefty settlement, her attorney said Faruqi & Faruqi’s partners protected Monteverde because he was among the firm’s highest earners.

7. Rena Weeks –

8 Women Who Fought (Or Still Fight) Sexual Harassment in the Law Profession 7Although not a lawyer, Rena Weeks worked as a former  secretary at legal giant Baker + McKenzie, and received a $7.1 million aware, the highest payout awarded in a sexual harassment claim, following evidence of her being harassed by a partner.

 The award in restpect of one of the firm’s former partners, Martin Greenstein, was twice what Ms Weeks had sought.  She had worked at the firm for less than two months.  Although reduced to $3.5 million

“When you go into filing a lawsuit, you have to accept you’ll be labeled as a nut, a slut, a money grubber, or a poor performer,” she says. “You have to know that’s what you’re up against.”



“The jury’s decision sends a message about entitlement,” said Freada Klein, the president of Klein Associates, a Boston-based firm that advises businesses about bias in the workplace. “I would read it as law firms are not allowed to ignore the law, so it’s a comment on hypocrisy. It is also a statement that highly successful professionals or revenue-producers are not entitled to be uncivil to support staff.

8. Elina Chechelnitsky –

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Elina Chechelnitsky alleged she was sexually harassed as a summer associate and assigned work only because a partner wanted to set her up with his favorite male associate. The lawsuit also claimed female associates were given far more non-billable work than their male counterparts. In addition, Chechelnitsky said the firm organized all-male golf outings and forced female associates to sign a confidentiality agreement that allowed them to socialize with male attorneys post work.

She claimed she was fired in retaliation for complaining about the harassment and the lack of gender equality. While the prominent New Jersey-based law firm attributed her termination to downsizing due to lack of work, Chechelnitsky pointed out that a male attorney was hired to replace her a few weeks later.

*Jan McCreal is a freelance writer and a LawFuel contributor.

8 Women Who Fought (Or Still Fight) Sexual Harassment in the Law Profession 9YouToo? Have a #Metoo story?  Email us at LawFuel ([email protected]) or contribute your views on sexual harassment below or to us directly.

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