Gender, Labor / Employment, Texas, Women's Issues

Gender Discrimination Suit Alleges Men and Women Couldn’t Be ‘Alone Together’ at This Texas Law Firm

‘Alone? With a man? Oh my, I just couldn’t!’

When it comes to equal opportunities in the workplace, women working in law firms have an especially raw deal. In most cases, men are the top earners, and they’re given more chances to bring in business than their female counterparts. Some claim that male lawyers have even gone so far as to purposely exclude women from client pitches and after-work bonding activities.

These observations aren’t new; women have been getting the shaft for decades in the good ol’ boys’ club we call the practice of law. But one law firm allegedly went a step further to shut out its female employees.

Deep in the heart of Texas, a female partner claims that men and women at her firm weren’t even allowed to work in the same room alone together with the door closed….

UPDATE (4/12/2013, 5:00 p.m.): Now with a statement from the firm, posted after the jump.

Meet Kimberly Elkjer, a partner at Scheef & Stone. In a suit filed against her firm, she claims that at one time the firm had a policy that prohibited male and female attorneys from being “alone together” in the same room behind closed doors — both inside and outside of the workplace. According to Amy Gibson, Elkjer’s attorney, in a statement given to AOL Jobs, at first Elkjer “just thought the guys wouldn’t hang out with her, and she didn’t know why.” It wasn’t until later that Elkjer found out the firm’s alleged no-fraternization rules.

We know this is Texas, but chaperone systems are so passé. We can’t say that we’ve ever heard of one being necessary in a law firm setting. This is a job at a law firm, not a date with a lawyer. Did male partners at this firm have to ask for permission from female associates’ fathers before requiring them to work past their 10 p.m. curfews? Come on with this ridiculousness already.

Here’s one of the allegations at the heart of Elkjer’s gender discrimination lawsuit:

Scheef & Stone LLP has fostered a culture that generally encourages sex-based stereotypes, impedes female attorneys’ ability to develop professional relationships with male attorneys at the firm, promotes greater income and business opportunities for male attorneys at the firm as compared to female attorneys at the firm, and undermines female attorneys’ perceived and actual ability to perform work.

If such a policy ever existed while Elkjer was working at the firm, what could have inspired management to institute something so drastic in the first place? Well, in fairness, this is Texas, and we know from past experience that relationships among attorneys of the opposite sex aren’t always cordial. For example, one southern gentleman from the Lone Star State allegedly had some choice names for his female colleagues that ranged from “c*nt” to “flat-chested bitch.”

Perhaps this alleged policy was motivated by sexual harassment concerns, but Gibson thinks that’s absurd, going so far as to liken the situation to one involving African-American employees:

“‘We’re afraid someone will accuse us of racial harassment, so white employees can’t be alone with African American employees.’ That’s crazy.”

Of course, even if Scheef & Stone did have a ludicrous policy like the one described by Gibson, management might defend it as a “legitimate business decision,” as is the case here with Elkjer. The firm claims Elkjer disagrees with many of its business decisions that “have nothing to do with gender and apply to all attorneys in the firm,” and that “[n]o other female attorneys at the firm support Ms. Elkjer’s false claims.” Just saying, but maybe that’s because they like their jobs, y’all.

This is 2013, not 1913. Women don’t need to be chaperoned when with a coworker of the opposite sex.

UPDATE (4/12/2013, 5:00 p.m.): We received the following from a spokesperson for Scheef & Stone:

Scheef & Stone never had a policy that excluded women from client pitches or after-work bonding activities and the lawsuit does not make that claim. Scheef & Stone never had a policy that prevented male and female employees from working in the same room together. If you review the pleadings carefully you will see that it refers to men and women being in the same room together with the door closed– a policy that was only briefly in force.

Your blog also does not accurately portray the firm’s defense which is outlined in the statement below. Please feel free to contact me if I can further assist you.

A Statement from Scheef & Stone LLP

There is no evidence to support Ms. Elkjer’s false claims. In fact, objective evidence and our business records will clearly show that Ms. Elkjer disagrees with legitimate business decisions based on objective non-discriminatory criteria by the firm’s management that have nothing to do with gender and apply to all attorneys in the firm.

No other female attorneys at the firm support Ms. Elkjer’s false claims. We are fully prepared to defend this case.

Ms. Elkjer remains a partner in the firm and has the obligation to abide by the confidentiality provisions of our partnership agreement. The firm submits that Ms. Elkjer’s actions through the filing of her suit and communications with the press have violated the terms of that agreement. While we understand that we are at a severe disadvantage by not being able to respond in detail to her unfounded false allegations, the firm will abide by its requirements under the agreement. Due to its confidentiality obligations, Scheef & Stone is unable to further comment about any actions or policies, except to state that it has not and does not discriminate against any individuals due to their sex or any other protected characteristics.

Attorney Sues Good Ol’ Law Firm [Courthouse News Service]
Texas Employer Barred Men And Women From Being Alone Together, Suit Claims [AOL Jobs]
Suit contends law firm barred female and male lawyers from being alone together [ABA Journal]

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