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ABA study: Disabled, LGBTQ+ lawyers face discrimination

July 20, 2020

Lawyers who either identify as having disabilities or who identify as LGBTQ+ report experiencing both subtle and overt forms of discrimination at their workplaces, with common reports of subtle but unintentional biases, according to a first-of-its-kind national study released July 14 by the American Bar Association, in collaboration with the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University.

Lawyers who either identify as having disabilities or as LGBTQ+ report experiencing both subtle and overt forms of discrimination at the workplace.

Lawyers who either identify as having disabilities or as LGBTQ+ report experiencing both subtle and overt forms of discrimination at the workplace.

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The study surveyed 3,590 lawyers, including individuals from every state and the District of Columbia, and was conducted from 2018 to 2019. Particularly noteworthy, the study examines individuals with multiple identities that intersect, such as people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities who also have disabilities.

“This study is an important first step in working towards a more inclusive and better legal profession by identifying bias and stigmas against LGBTQ+ lawyers as well as lawyers with disabilities,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said. “The ABA remains committed to its core goal of eliminating bias and enhancing diversity. Discrimination against people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ individuals, whether structural or unintentional, needs to be eradicated.”

Among the key findings of the study are:

  • Prevalence of subtle biases. Almost 4 of 10 (38.5%, 1,076) of all responses reported perceptions or experiences of subtle but unintentional biases. More than 1 in 5 respondents (21.7%, 607) noted the experience of subtle and intentional biases.
  • Prevalence of mental health conditions. One-quarter (25.0%, 830) of respondents reported a health impairment, condition or disability. Of the 1,374 total responses, almost one-third (30.8%) reported a mental condition, which could include depression, anxiety and cognitive conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and traumatic brain injury.
  • Variations in bias and intersectional identities. Approximately 16.6% of the lawyers responding identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, and 0.4% identified their sexual orientation as open. Of 67 lawyers who were women and identified as LGB with a health condition, slightly more than half (52.2%, 35) reported they had experienced discrimination in their workplaces. Lawyers with a health condition or impairment and who identify as a person with a disability reported experiencing more overt forms of discrimination, such as bullying and harassment, as compared to people who do not have such conditions. Attitudinal biases and structural barriers may be even more challenging for those with multiple identities that intersect.
  • Bias mitigation strategies. When asked to report strategies that were especially effective in lessening either overt or subtle forms of bias or discrimination in their workplaces, fewer than half (46%) reported finding effective strategies. Mentoring within (20.5%, 1,490) and outside (18.4%, 1,335) their organizations was reported as an effective mitigation strategy.
  • Requests for workplace accommodation. More than one-quarter of all respondents (28.4%, 807) reported requesting a workplace accommodation from their organization. Of the 730 respondents who reported a health condition, impairment or disability, fewer than half (42.9%, 313) had requested an accommodation.

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