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Gender Bias at the Workplace is Gender Discrimination: Florida’s Female Attorneys Report

 Gender Bias at the Workplace is Gender Discrimination: Florida’s Female Attorneys Report

As March is Women’s History
Month, the Florida Bar issued a report in which it describes “…Women in the Legal Profession.” The report is the first of its kind and it’s an effort by the Florida Bar in understanding the field for female attorneys and ways to improve it. Many articles hav
e labeled its findings as Gender Bias, we should be calling it what it is: Unlawful Gender Discrimination in the Workplace.

The survey was emailed to a random sample of 3,137 female attorneys who belong to the organization of Young Lawyers Division. Out of the 465 responses, 43% female attorneys faced “Gender Bias” in the workplace. The responses included blatant workplace
discrimination:

  1. Pregnancy Discrimination: “After g
    iving birth to my first child, I requested from a female Judge to take two brief recesses from a trial to pump breast milk. Though she stated that it wouldn’t be a problem, no breaks were given from 9 am to 6 pm except for a brief lunch at 12:30, e
    ven after follow up requests.”
  2. Pay Inequality, Gender Discrimination: “After making Partner, I learned that male attorneys were paid more out of law school than female attorneys with the same qualifications.”
  3. Sexual Harassment: “During [an] internship in law school, I experienced gender bias and harassment when a supervisor inappropriately touched me.”

The survey asked female attorneys to relate their reasons for resignation, 27% responded that it was due to lack of advancement, lack of work/life balance or employer insensitivity. Among the many responses, harassment, gender bias culture, failure to give a promised pay raise, and hostile work environment seem to be a recurring theme. All of which rise to unlawful conduct by employers in the workplace.

There is legal relief available to women in the workplace who suffer gender discrimination including The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, The Americans With Disabilities Act whereby; “An employer may have to provide a reasonable accommodation for a disability related to pregnancy”, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, clearly bars gender based pay inequality. Title VII and the Florida Civil Rights Act also prohibit sexual harassment. The real question is why female attorneys are not reporting this unlawful conduct, or why does this happen in the one field where the law should be held to the highest regard?

The answer may seem obvious; the legal field has been and is dominated by men. However, there may be a much more complex analysis to better understand why women attorneys face gender bias in the workplace. This matter is worth conducting further research. One attorney describes the fear many female attorneys have; “I knew I couldn’t sue my firm because it would blackball me from working in Big Law, or any firm of consequence again,” another one stated; “For the same reason, I also never reported inappropriate touching and conversations that occurred at firm events.”

When encountered with discrimination or harassment, seeking legal counsel is always advised. However, to be able to take immediate control of the situation, below are a few recommendations:

Review your Employee contract and/or Employee handbook for any available reporting tools to report such unlawful conduct.
Keep a diary of the detailed specifics of the encounters (date, name and title of the person, any witness, etc.)
Approach Human Resources to report the situation and submit a document in writing.

While these simple steps may not stop the discrimination, it will create a paper trail that will enable an attorney to have a better understanding of the case. It is important to remember that it is unlawful to have any retaliatory action on an employer’s behalf for reporting unlawful conduct to Human Resources.

It is not enough to ha
ve laws that protect against gender discrimination or harassment. There needs to be a workplace culture change which diminishes those fears in female workers, and allows them to have reporting tools without the fear of retaliation. The first step for a female worker would be to empower herself with knowledge of her legal rights, and then if the situation persists after using an employer reporting tool, to seek legal counsel. We must encourage women to speak up and to seek the advice of a qualified attorney. It is long past the time when women should continue to fear discrimination in the workplace; in the eyes of the law, “women and men” should be treated equally!

By: Daniela Carrion