It’s about time bosses were held to account for sexual assault and sexual harassment. But there’s more on the menu of abhorrent acts that bosses have required underlings to do if they wanted to keep (or get) a job.
A boss of mine in a top-tier East Coast law firm threatened that if I didn’t lie to a judge for him, I was out of a job.
The boss was a partner in the firm. I was a summer associate after my second year of law school. As with all summer associates, I hoped to land a permanent job offer upon completion of a successful summer writing mostly legal memoranda for various partners in the firm.
A few weeks before the summer job ended, the partner called me into his office and told me that he needed me to write a legal memo backing up a claim he had made in court about a property law issue.
I did the required research but the case law on the issue did not support his claim. In fact, there was no case law supporting his false statement to the judge about the legal precedent.
I went to his office with my conclusion and handed him the legal memorandum I had written, complete with citation after citation illustrating that he had falsely represented the case law to the judge.
He read it. He ripped it up in front of me. He shut his office door. His face became red and veins in his forehead and neck started to stick out. He pounded his fist on the desk in front of him and he yelled that I better come up with something to back up his claim to the judge “or else.”
I told him that my research had been thorough. I had missed nothing. His statement to the judge had been inaccurate. What did he want me to do?
That bastard litigation partner told me in no uncertain terms that I was to write a legal memo misstating the case law in order to make it appear to the court that he had not deceived the court.
I said that would be a lie and I wasn’t going to lie. I wasn’t going to misinterpret the case law in a memo to him so that he could wave it in front of the judge and blame his misstatement of the law on a summer associate. Me.
I wanted to cry and I hated that I wanted to cry. I had no power. I had not yet been invited to join the law firm. And yes, I wanted the permanent job which would start after my third year of law school. And the income. And the prestige. I wanted to start my career as a lawyer after years of hard work and a ton of tuition money.
In a completely misguided effort to reassure me, he tried to convince me (when he stopped yelling) that as a summer associate, I was not yet “an officer of the court” so I couldn’t be disbarred for “committing fraud on the court”.
As a partner in the litigation department, he knew the law and he was probably right about that. An attorney, on the other hand, could be disbarred and in some cases, could face criminal charges and possibly jail time.
But I was not going to help him lie to a judge or deceive the court. That wasn’t how I was brought up. That wasn’t me. That was wrong.
So I said no. I will not do that.
He looked down at his desk, like he was about to explode. Then he asked me if I knew that he was the hiring partner that year.
That’s not sexual assault. It’s career assault.
I left his office without responding. He had made the price of a job offer very clear.
I did not get a job offer from that top tier east coast law firm.
But I did go to the office of every partner that I had worked for that summer before I left and asked if they could help me understand if and where my work had disappointed them. One partner was not impressed with an assignment I had done for him but the others were as complimentary about my research as their written responses to the assignments indicated.
There was only one reason I did not get that job offer.
Sucks to be powerless, especially if you have bills to pay and someone abuses his power and tries to make you trade your principles for money or a job.
But thank you to all of the women who the media pay attention to, such as famous Hollywood actresses, who have shared their stories of power-abuse recently because those of us with no public platform just have to cry into our pillows about the opportunities we missed by saying “no” to people who tried to abuse us.