Don't Call Me 'Honey': U.S. Lawyers Barred From Sexist Comments, Discriminatory Behavior

The American Bar Association has adopted a new anti-discrimination rule, but not everyone's happy.

Many female lawyers say they’ve endured misogyny on the job. They’re called “honey” or “darling” in the courtroom and are subjected to other sexist comments and patronizing behavior.

“I got the pat on the head,” Jenny Waters, chief executive of the National Association of Women Lawyers, told The New York Times this month of a memorable incident while in private practice. Other attorneys spoke of “grating” remarks or arms draped around the shoulder.

This week, after months of heated debate, the American Bar Association voted to ban such sexist behavior in a new anti-discrimination provision to its model rules of professional conduct

The ABA voted Monday to amend the group’s ethics rules to prohibit discrimination and harassment in the course of practicing law.  

“It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination” on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors, the new guidance reads. “Harassment includes sexual harassment and derogatory or demeaning verbal or physical conduct.”

Lawyers found engaging in such misconduct could face disciplinary action, which could range from fines to losing one’s license to practice law. It would fall to state bar associations to determine the appropriate punishment. 

The ABA’s House of Delegates “resoundingly adopted” the new ethics rule during a meeting in San Francisco, the association said.

Nearly two dozen state bars and the District of Columbia bar have similar anti-discrimination guidelines, according to the Times, But there had been no national rule until this week.

“The states have not waited for the ABA to act,” said Myles Lynk, chair of ABA’s ethics committee, Monday. “They have been laboratories of change ... It is time for the ABA to catch up.”

The new guidance has been met with some criticism, with opponents arguing that it’s “anti-Christian,” fueled by “’PC’ politics” and a rule that could impair free speech.

Many, however, have lauded the change.

“Half my students are women. A quarter are students of color,” legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers, of New York University School of Law, told The Wall Street Journal. “The ABA has looked to them like an organization of old white guys. This vote will help.”



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