Saturday, September 17, 2005

Is Harass One Word or Two?


As many attorneys in Washington and Florida know, the global law firm of Holland & Knight has had some acute brushes with political correctness in 2005. Notably, one such instance occurred in the form of a sexual harassment scandal involving one of its senior partners and his pleas for female associates to feel his pipes.

But what happens when a prominent client causes sexual unrest in a law firm? Given the legal profession's default left-wing presumption, and its perpetual hand-wringing over accommodating political correctness in the workplace, shouldn't law firms (especially those which espouse zero-tolerance policies toward sexual harassment) have as easy a time dealing with clients that break the rules as they do with each other? Can filthy lucre corrupt even the best of intentions? Apparently so.

In Goodman v. Blank Rome, a lawsuit recently filed in New York, an associate of the 459-attorney Blank Rome claimed, that notwithstanding the firm's "zero-tolerance policy" she was subjected to the perverse sexual antics of a wealthy and loyal client while senior partners looked the other way. In one such particularly lurid incident, the associate was requested to travel to the client's hotel room for his signature on some documents and was greeted by the client clad only in a terrycloth bathrobe (I suppose we have the Four Seasons New York to thank for its choice of terrycloth over flimsy negligee). The associate complained-then sued, and as a consequence of her failure to loosen up and party, she was fired.

Blank Rome and Holland & Knight are huge firms with as many HR issues as the day is long. Sooner or later, sexual harassment by partners and associates, is bound to become an issue and these firms are supposed to have preexisting policies to contend with them. While this form of sexual harassment may not be as institutional or endemic on the small/solo practice level, the issue of valuable and loyal clients harassing you or your help is one that should span all types of practice.

Is your office "zero-tolerant" of inside as well as outside sexual harassment? If not, what level of tolerance is it willing to stomach?

Have you had incidents with wealthy clients in the past?

If so, how did you handle them?

If not, how would you handle them?

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