Yes, sexual harassment happens in the legal field too

During law school, most aspiring attorneys take at least one employment law class. When sitting for the bar exam in Arizona and other states, these individuals also answer questions about federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Still, even though lawyers should know better, sexual harassment is commonplace in the legal field.

According to a recent study by the American Bar Association, roughly 33% of women in the legal professional report having experienced sexual harassment at work. This compares to only 7% of men who say they have been victims of sexual harassment.

A legacy of disparate treatment

When future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner graduated law school in 1952, she could not find a position at a law firm. While four women have now served on the highest court in the U.S., Justice O’Conner’s experience highlights the disparate treatment women have traditionally experienced in the legal profession. Regrettably, some attorneys continue to have outdated views of the roles women should play in the practice of law.

A pretext for sexual harassment

Even though women make competent lawyers and paralegals, partners in law firms may use their intrinsic characteristics as a pretext for sexual harassment. For example, if a woman speaks softly, a partner may deny her a promotion or ask her to perform menial tasks. Even worse, if the firm has a male-dominated culture, women may feel pressure to dress or behave in ways that comport with traditional gender roles.

While attorneys throughout Arizona should have a firm grasp of the law, they are no better at avoiding sexual harassment than other professionals. Ultimately, women who work in the legal field may have to act quickly to protect themselves and their careers from the potentially catastrophic consequences of sexual harassment.