Pregnancy Discrimination At Law Firms

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Posts at Law and Letters, Concurring Opinions and at Workplace Prof Blog all discuss different aspects of a purported departure memo written by an associate at the San Francisco office of Paul, Hastings. The memo was initially posted at Above the Law where David Lat apparently “accidentally” failed to redact the name of the complaining attorney in all of the places it occurred, thereby making her name public when he left her name visible. Given his penchant for humiliating women, see also, see also (and publicizing it when others do) this is not surprising, but it is unfortunate for the lawyer, though her name is probably in wide circulation already, placed there by vengeful members of firm management. How grateful they must be to Lat for doing their job for them. The only reason I am linking to the ATL post now is that it appears her name has finally been removed.

In the departure memo, the lawyer asserts she was fired after a miscarriage, before she could get preganant again. At Workplace Prof Blog, Paul Secunda writes:

… And though these are just allegations, I come from the same environment and only can say that I know of very similar circumstances, and worse, happening around me when I wore the associate manacles.

But the fact that law firms might be morally bankrupt should be really no surprise. What is a surprise is that an experienced labor and employment firm was so (allegedly) callous in handling one of its own.

Like Paul, I am aware of legions of situations like this at many large law firms. Unlike Paul, I am not suprised that an experienced labor and employment firm might have been so callous. Why not? The partners at a firm like that well know that they can get away with it. It’s simple enough to give a confusing assignment to an associate, and then to castigate her with a bad review for not doing the job “correctly.” Many lawyers will absorb this kind of treatment so they can feasibly get a decent reference, and a good job somewhere else.

–Ann Bartow

NB: Edited for spelling errors, content and clarity. And I may have some additions soon. Carol Elefant’s take on the situation is here.

UPDATE: I received the following e-mail from David Lat, which I post here in its entirety, with his explicit permission to do so:

The associate’s name appeared in several places in the memo. I redacted it in all places except for one — below the notary line, where it was easily missed (and accidentally missed, by me, which I regret).

It is not accurate, therefore, to say that I “failed to redact the name of the complaining attorney in all of the places it occurred.” I redacted it EVERYWHERE IT APPEARED except for one place, where I missed it (accidentally — in the notary signature block — look at page 4).

After it was pointed out to me, I fixed that one missed redaction, within about five minutes of the post going up.

I am trying to do the right thing here with these redactions. I don’t appreciate it when I don’t get credit for these efforts.

Perhaps I should just go back to my former practice of just putting these documents up in unredacted form (since it’s extra work to redact, and since I get accused of not redacting them anyway).

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0 Responses to Pregnancy Discrimination At Law Firms

  1. David Lat says:

    You write: “The memo was initially posted at Above the Law where David Lat apparently ‘accidentally’ failed to redact the name of the complaining attorney in all of the places it occirred [sic], thereby making her name public.”

    This is incorrect. I redacted the associate’s name in all places except for one — the line below the notary line, where it was easily missed. That was accidental, and as soon as it was brought to my attention, I fixed it. That correction was made within minutes of the memo going up.

    Please correct your post. I would also appreciate an apology for your irresponsible error; I note that you cite no source for your claim that I “failed to redact the name of the complaining attorney in all of the places it occirred” (sic). Thank you.

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    What I wrote was absolutely accurate. You failed to redact the name in all of the places it occurred. You missed one. Thereby making her name public.

    If you think you are owed an apology for possibly ruining someone’s career with your alarm siren, page load seeking irresponsibility, well, don’t hold your breath.

  3. Ann, do you honestly think that Lat did this intentionally? What you wrote was “absolutely accurate” only if you ignore the fact that you put quotes around “accidentally”. In reality, you have no idea whether Lat did this intentionally or not. Instead, you infer from his prior behavior that he acted maliciously toward this woman.

    What logic is there to redacting all but one occurrence of the name, and then correcting the mistake, if he was out to intentionally hurt this person?

  4. Ann Bartow says:

    Well, by leaving the name public in only one place, he can pretend it was an accident, whether it truly was or not. ATL is a for profit, advertising driven blog, and having the lawyer’s name up surely generated a lot of buzz, fast.

    Lat’s explanation is now appended to the post.

  5. David Lat says:

    Jason: Thanks for coming to my defense. My failure to redact completely was accidental. When I received the email, I immediately realized it was a scoop (at least in the law-firm world that’s my main beat at Above the Law). So I put it up very, very quickly. In my haste, I made a mistake with the redactions. I fixed that mistake in a matter of minutes, as soon as commenters pointed it out to me.

    Professor Bartow:

    1. The associate’s name was arguably already public, insofar as she sent her departure memo to hundreds of people at her large national law firm. Also, reading her message, one gets the clear sense that she would like her account of how she was treated to be disseminated as widely as possible.

    2. As you correctly note, “her name is probably in wide circulation already,” due to extensive forwarding of her unredacted email. I received her email from multiple sources via different forwarding chains.

    3. You state that ATL is “a for profit, advertising driven blog, and having the lawyer’s name up surely generated a lot of buzz, fast.” I disagree — not on the for-profit part, which I concede, but on the buzz-generating part. I don’t think the lawyer’s name added anything to the story or its buzzworthiness (which is why I redacted it).

    4. I have no regrets about posting her message (which was, as noted, already in wide circulation thanks to email forwarding). I think it has started a debate about women in large law firms that is healthy and important to have.

  6. Ann Bartow says:

    I asked you for permission before I published the text of your e-mail. It would have been appropriate for you to give that attorney the same courtesy. And I doubt you have started a healthy debate. Instead, I suspect you have severely frightened any other lawyer who was contemplating taking such a bold stand, completely chilling debate participation by those most affected. We’ll see.

  7. Joseph Slater says:

    I’m also not surprised that partners in a management-side labor and employment law firm would do this sort of thing.

  8. David Lat says:

    Since her email went out to hundreds of recipients at a large national law firm, I did not deem it to be a private communication.

    But I did contact her as soon as I could after posting. She expressed no objection to my posting, nor did she ask me to remove what I had already put up.

  9. Ann Bartow says:

    She was hardly in an equal bargaining position with you. She very well might have feared that if she antagonized you in any way, you would simply inflict more misery upon her.

  10. Salguod says:

    Ann, while David Lat is certainly an ackowledged purveyor of least-common-denominator trashy writing about the legal profession (e.g. the “hotties” obsession you highlight with such gusto) he also serves as an incredibly valuable mechanism for publicizing bad behavior by law firms, as he did with the Charney business.

    See Orin Kerr’s post on Volokh — “Remember the old days when law firms worried about getting sued if they fired an attorney? These days, I would think the greater fear is that the firing will get ugly and end up featured on Above the Law.” http://www.volokh.com/posts/1210034248.shtml

    Check out the comments to the original post on ATL. Not only is the average comment much better than the typical ATL post (not saying much, alas), but there is a huge outpouring of sympathy for the author of the email from former and current Paul Hastings associates, associates at other firms and law students. Many posters describe this woman as a hero, as courageous, and as someone who has made a worthwhile sacrifice that will improve the lives of women at law firms throughout the country. It will take decades for Paul Hastings to live this down.

    There are also a lot of folks criticizing David for badly redacting the document, but despite dozens of comments, some of them quite strongly worded, I think you’re the first person to suggest that he did it deliberately.

    Should David have done the redaction job right? Yes. Did he make this woman’s life materially worse by failing to redact the document? No. In fact, while we don’t have enough facts to determine this, it seems just as likely that by spreading the word he helped further this woman’s desire to publicize the abusive and cruel treatment that she experienced at PH. Certaily at the time she sent the email to 1200 co-workers she intended to make her concerns known to as wide an audience as possible.

  11. Ann Bartow says:

    There are also a lot of folks criticizing David for badly redacting the document, but despite dozens of comments, some of them quite strongly worded, I think you’re the first person to suggest that he did it deliberately.

    When he runs “hotties” contests, Lat runs the names, photos, and employment information of people even when they ask him not to, or ask to have their personal information removed, see e.g. http://feministlawprofs.law.sc.edu/?p=941
    The whole ATL premise is prurient and exploitive. I can’t read Lat’s mind, and I let him give his own explanation of events above. But certainly the post would have been more salacious and popular when the name was not fully redacted.

    In fact, while we don’t have enough facts to determine this…

    That’s exactly my point. We don’t really know much of anything. Do we know for sure that the attorney really sent her e-mail to everyone at the firm? Or did someone else do that?

    Certaily at the time she sent the email to 1200 co-workers she intended to make her concerns known to as wide an audience as possible.

    Again, are you entirely sure she sent the e-mail to 1200 co-workers?

    Even if she did, whether she should have anticipated having it forwarded to people like David Lat would depend in part on firm culture. I belong to a number of list-serves to which the understanding is you don’t forward off the list without permission. Lat’s rendition of the lawyer’s e-mail does not include any of the warnings, “cautions” or disclaimers that most law firms append to the end of every e-mail. The Paul, Hastings signature may “forbid” forwarding. It’s possible she even asked that the e-mail not be forwarded outside the firm. In any event, the whole thing was out of her control fast, and exposure came at a level I seriously doubt she was anticipating.

    At this moment, Paul, Hastings is getting most of the bad press from this episode. But if the memo writing lawyer antagonizes Lat in any way, he could very easily post an update that suddenly makes her a subject of massive derision and opprobrium. That’s a pretty classic big blog maneuver, even if it isn’t something Lat would typically do (make up your own mind about that, based on previous practice at ATL).

  12. Ann Bartow says:

    Oh, and with respect to Orin Kerr’s VC post, which I repost here in its entirety:

    Remember the old days when law firms worried about getting sued if they fired an attorney? These days, I would think the greater fear is that the firing will get ugly and end up featured on Above the Law.

    Orin is making a reference to the ability of Above the Law to severely damage reputations. And he is right, that blog has great power to do that.

    Note that many of the comments to Orin’s post are quite hostile to the attorney.

  13. Samquilla says:

    I am occasionally interested in posts at ATL, because they do address issues of women in law firms. However, I now never follow links to ATL or read posts there, even if I might be interested in the information, because the comments are such a cesspool of disgusting woman-haters, it’s just not worth it. Any time I go there it leaves me pissed for days, ashamed of our profession, and furious that I went to school with these bigots, but don’t know who they are so that I can appropriately shun them.

  14. tmcgaugh says:

    And let’s not pretend that this is a law firm phenomenon. When I was pregnant with both of my children at ABA-accredited and AALS-member schools, I heard and experienced what it’s like to use the regular semester breaks for maternity leave or take a couple of weeks off during the semester, but always remaining “on class” for a meeting, class prep, article research, etc. For most of us the child-bearing years, coincide with the career-building years, and both male and female tenured colleagues can take a dim view of a woman’s tenure prospects if she dares to take time to have a baby. For my second child, I asked about taking unpaid leave and was told that the student load would have to be redistributed among the colleagues who taught the same subject (despite giving the administration plenty of notice to secure a visitor or adjunct). I ended up not taking the leave because (a) I couldn’t afford an entire semester of unpaid leave, and academic time comes in semesters only, and (b) I wasn’t willing to have the student load redistributed to my colleauges (something I’m pretty confident a male colleague would have been less concerned about).

    Women have crappy choices, even in cushy jobs.

    Tracy McGaugh

  15. Ann Bartow says:

    I agree that law schools aren’t particularly women-friendly. But it is a lot harder to get rid of a pregnant female law prof pretextually than a female associate at a law firm. Thank goodness!

  16. David Lat says:

    The associate just gave an interview to the WSJ Law Blog (which includes her full name and a prominent photo in the post):

    http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/05/08/fired-paul-hastings-associate-talks-to-law-blog/?mod=WSJBlog