General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo NewsletterSolo, Vol. 5, No 3.
Spring 1998 © American Bar Association. All rights reserved.
Sexual Harassment and Your Law Practice
BY IRVING M. GESLEWITZ
Irving M. Geslewitz is a lawyer in Chicago concentrating in representing management in labor and employment law matters.
Your paralegal comes to you and complains that Joe, the CEO of your largest client, has been making sexual advances toward her.
You have an obligation to act expeditiously. Federal law, through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits sexual harassment that affects the terms and conditions of employment. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
If you're a solo or work in a firm with fewer than 15 employees, you should check your state laws or county and municipal ordinances. Under such laws, an employer is not only potentially responsible for sexual harassment by his or her employees that affects the workplace, but also for such conduct by non-employees if the employer is placed on notice of the conduct (or should have known of the conduct) and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.
Here are some steps to take:
- Confront the client about the paralegal's complaint;
- If there appears to be a basis for the paralegal's complaint, tell the client that you do not consider such behavior acceptable;
- Notify the paralegal of the action you took;
- Create a written record of the action you took, either in the form of a letter to the client or a memorandum to the file.
- If the conduct persists, consider limiting, suspending, or terminating your relationship with the client.
Be proactive. Establish a sexual harassment policy that clearly indicates that such conduct will not be tolerated and which encourages employees to come to you with any complaints. Make sure the policy is properly disseminated so that all employees are aware of it. Educate all managers or supervisors on what constitutes a policy violation and to be alert to inappropriate conduct. Respond promptly to situations of possible sexual harassment by investigating, interviewing, documenting, and following up.
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