The email reprinted below, from Dean Katharine T. Bartlett, just went out to everyone at Duke Law School. It was forwarded to us by a source at the school.
Yes, we know: the partner who pulled a Michael Richards used “the n word” in the context of telling a story, in which the racial epithet was uttered by a character in the story. He didn’t use “the n word” to refer to any student or interviewee.
We don’t know the nature of the story being told by the partner. But unless the story was about, say, the partner’s pro bono representation, in a civil action for damages, of a hate crime or police brutality victim who was attacked and called “the n word,” it was hugely inappropriate for the partner to use a racial slur in this context (or, for that matter, any other context).
>>> Kate BARTLETT / 11:21 AM >>>
To The Duke Law School Community:
The purpose of this letter is to address a recent incident of concern arising out of a law firm recruitment visit to Duke. A Duke student reported that a partner from Fulbright & Jaworski who was meeting students on campus told a story in which “the n word” was attributed to one of the characters in the story. Understandably, the use of the word offended the student.
Upon learning about this episode, pursuant to the Law School’s Anti-discrimination Policy, http://www.law.duke.edu/career/pdf/discriminationcomplaintform.pdf, the Career Center staff immediately asked the student if they could approach the employer to investigate the incident. The student agreed, and Tia Barnes called the recruiting manager to say that this was a serious situation that needed to be promptly addressed.
The hiring partner called back within minutes, clearly upset at the behavior of his partner. Shortly thereafter he reported back that he raised the issue to the highest levels of the firm, that the firm was taking internal measures dealing with the individual involved, and that the offending lawyer will not be permitted to return to Duke to meet with students.
The offending lawyer admitted his use of the word in question and reportedly recognizes that it was wrong to do so. The firm also sent an official apology to the student through us, as the student wished to remain anonymous.
As part of its remediation efforts, a partner at the law firm has asked to come to Duke to meet with students to describe the incident, to apologize to the community publicly, and to explain the measures that the firm has taken. Bruce Elvin has arranged for this meeting to take place tomorrow, February 22, at 4:30, in Room 3041.
This situation is ongoing, but to help the community better understand what has occurred thus far in the face of stories circulating on the grapevine, we asked for the student’s permission to describe what happened and to write this letter, and the student agreed. As is understandably often the case, the student still wishes to remain anonymous, and we have done our best to respect that wish, particularly given the importance of ensuring that our follow-up to incidents of this sort encourages students in the future to come forward to report such incidents, and does not discourage them from doing so.
This incident creates an opportunity to restate that the law school does not tolerate offensive or discriminatory conduct behavior by employers, whether occurring during interviews, mock interviews or summer employment. Pursuant to our policy, complaints of such behavior are investigated and we evaluate the response by employers to determine if their remedial action in response to the behavior is adequate. If you experience such behavior, please let us know either in person or by using the complaint form referenced above.
I appreciate the strong feelings this incident has raised and seek to work with the community as an ongoing matter to facilitate communication about how to make our climate here free from discrimination in the career services context and in all other dimensions of our Law School.
Katharine T. Bartlett
Dean and A. Kenneth Pye Professor of Law Duke University School of Law
Update: We now have more details and context about the incident — and it’s not as bad as it initially sounded. Details here.
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