Female Lawyer Discrimination Challenged In The Courtroom

Discrimination Against Female Lawyers

Discrimination Against Female Lawyers

Although lawyers spend most of their careers fighting discrimination and other injustices, female lawyers experience a high level of employment discrimination as well. To speak up against the discrimination often means career suicide. In more recent years, top female lawyers have pushed back against the discrimination; however, they too face certain consequences for speaking up.

And yet, sometimes it’s not about the discrimination or harassment as much as it is about the offense of being treated with so little respect after years of loyalty and hard work. A difficult decision is ahead of her: file a lawsuit or not. She better than anyone understands what is at stake.

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Common Areas of Female Lawyer Discrimination

Pregnancy Discrimination: The Lawyer Mom

The pregnancy rights offered to women in the employment world are the same as the allowances made for those with temporary disabilities. Women who desire to nurture career and children struggle to advance professionally. While some employers offer flexibility for mothers, these same employers don’t offer the same opportunities of advancement to these professionals. A number of problems from prenatal care to breastfeeding cause lawsuits for pregnancy discrimination.

However, gender discrimination causes the most lawsuits filed by female lawyers against their firms.

Gender Discrimination: Equal But Not In Pay

Women in legal practices deal with gender discrimination on a routine basis. In the most basic and detrimental form, gender discrimination occurs at the pay level. Men continue to make almost 20% more than women who are equal in experience and performance. Meanwhile, women often are passed up for promotion and pay raises.

In 2016, Traci Ribeiro, an insurance lawyer, sued her employer for gender discrimination for withholding equal pay and promotion to the women within the firm (Ribeiro v. Sedgwick LLP). More lawsuits have mounted between female lawyers and their law firms. Most recently, in May 2017, a female lawyer is suing her firm because when she brought up pay disparity, she began to experience harassment and threats of retaliation (Jane Doe v. Proskauer Rose LLP).  Meanwhile, women who attain firm partnership often face the highest pay disparity.

In 2016, a survey discovered that women law partners make one third less than what male counterparts earn. Reasons for the gender pay gap differ. Some believe it’s the patriarchal system while others believe that women are offered the same opportunities as male coworkers.

The American Bar Association voted in the late summer of 2016 to improve working conditions for female lawyers. Any harassment or discrimination due to race, personal characteristics, or sex would be considered a professional misconduct. Firms allowing professional misconduct will face penalties.

Four Most Common Problems for Women Attorneys

While female lawyers are hired, climbing the legal ranks presents a problem. Hard work and successful cases result in fewer promotions for female lawyers, but women also experience a few extra problems than their male colleagues. The tension and inequality in the work environment often prompts the following problems to occur.

Work twice as hard.

Female attorneys must work twice as hard to gain the same amount of career movement as male counterparts.

Choose one: liked or respected.

Females can very rarely be both liked and respected as lawyers, and they often must sacrifice one or the other.

Mommy Lawyer

Attorneys who choose to mother as well as work often face judgment for not prioritizing one or the other.

Cat Fight

Female lawyers sometimes face conflict between other women because of the routine gender bias each face from the legal firm.

Meanwhile, articles speculate that women attorneys improve career chances for themselves when they build client relationships and expand their legal network. Women attorneys with large networks and incoming clients are more likely to earn higher salaries as well as move ahead in their careers. Money and network matters.

The Cost of a Lawsuit for a Woman Attorney

For a woman in the legal field, the best way to commit career suicide is to sue your law firm for gender discrimination. In fact, women who recognize pay disparity or unfair treatment based on gender usually choose to switch firms. This quiet step temporarily relieves the gender discrimination, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

Andrea Kramer, co-author of Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work, shares that “women use their names with academics or journalists only when they feel they have nothing left to lose.”

For example in April 2017, the Chadbourne & Parke law firm dismissed Kerrie L. Campbell, a female partner, because she sued the firm for gender discrimination (Campbell, et al. v. Chadbourne & Parke, et al.). The firm removed Campbell from salary at the beginning of that month. Meanwhile, the firm denies that the expulsion of this female partner had anything to do with her discrimination lawsuit against them.

History and present day is not kind to the female career woman who stands up against unfair employment practices based on gender. And despite big steps towards equality, employment practices still needs to take some big steps to close the pay gap and job promotions. Chadbourne & Parke maintain that Campbell’s lawsuit did not weigh in on their decision to remove her from partnership and employment, but this action sends a clear message to female lawyers: speak out and lose trust.

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How To Fix Gender Discrimination in the Legal World

How To Fix Gender Discrimination in the Legal World

In a bar survey of more than 400 young female lawyers, 43% admitted to having experienced gender bias. Moreover, the Florida Bar surveyed over 3,000 female attorneys on the subject of gender discrimination. More than 25% resigned from a position because few advancement options existed while 21% expressed the belief that they weren’t paid comparably to male colleagues. Gender discrimination resides even in the legal profession.

Creating a step-by-step strategy to eliminate gender discrimination from the legal profession requires a commitment to evaluating skills rather than relying on gender stereotypes.

Light bulb1. Place women in leadership roles within the law firm.

When women and men represent a company with similar numbers of both sexes in leadership positions, companies show that they care about diversity and equality within their firm. No matter what gender, individuals in power gain the security to speak up in hiring and promotion processes. Female and male leadership means that female and male employees feel represented.

2. Protect hiring and promoting boards from unconscious bias.

Bias impacts every decision made. No matter how cautious men and women are to avoid making biased decisions on new hires and promotions, surveys show that unconscious bias influences almost all decisions. Therefore, consider removing names and genders from the application process when searching for new employees.

3. Train senior leadership and law firm partners.

Studies reveal that companies with diverse leadership team in gender and race outperform other businesses. Since diverse leaderships represent a wider group of people, leadership serves a greater group of people with more ideas and better understanding of the clients. Training in diversity steers already in-place leaders to welcome the change of diversity for the benefit and profit.

4. Recognize and oppose bias.

As society and businesses aim to improve on diversity, a number of problems appear. Sometimes, employers operate from assumptions based on gender stereotyping and double standards. Moreover, employers may look for job candidates who are like them in a number of ways. Finally, falling into reverse gender discrimination against men further complicates the process. Businesses and law firms need to recognize these common problems and strive for equality.

5. Evaluate work and offer better pay.

Networking runs the business world, but sometimes in a diverse office, those with less connections lose out on office work. When a law firm reviews work assignments and assigns cases based on merit rather than relationship, the whole firm profits. Moreover, when it comes to pay, minimize the pay gap and offer women payment that is equal with male colleagues. Lesser pay deters talented and innovative women from joining your company, and your firm loses the profit of a diverse team.

FMLA 6. Consider the work and life balance.

Some employees maintain primary caregiver responsibilities while also being the primary income for a household. Allowing flexibility for employees and focusing on the bottom line rather than face time allows employees to focus on work and care giving as needed. In some cases, offer care giving help for children or elderly.

7. Assess the hiring and promotion boards.

Unconscious bias taints the most unbiased and trained individual. Therefore, law firms should evaluate those who hire and promote lawyers for patterns of unconscious bias, double standards, or gender stereotyping. Another way to review the hiring board is to analyze language to use to describe applicants. Language often reveals unconscious bias.


Gender discrimination is a complicated issue that cannot simply be straightened like a crooked picture frame. And often, as society and law firms strive to eliminate the issue of gender discrimination, a new problem emerges: the reverse gender discrimination of men. Therefore, as law firms eliminate gender discrimination against female lawyers, they must be cautious not to drop to the other extreme. Teamwork between genders paves the way for better profit and overall success.

If you are a female attorney and have experienced lawyer discrimination of any type, contact a discrimination attorney now to hear your legal options.

Chat with a discrimination attorney: (412) 626-5626 or lawyer@lawkm.com.