Minority Issues

Listen, little Johnny police officer, the Taser is not a toy.

As an overweight man, adult onset diabetes is one of the things that makes me consider dropping a few pounds. But I’m still so young, so invincible, that long-term health concerns aren’t really enough to stop me from having an extra helping of Christmas goose (not that I even know anybody who eats a freaking goose like some character in a Dickens novel).

But overaggressive cops beating the crap out of me because of the color of my skin? That is a real threat. That is a “health concern” I respect. I know that, for instance, I should never ever jog with a golf club if I want to avoid police suspicion.

I didn’t think that having diabetes could lead to a police beating. But according to a lawsuit filed by John Harmon against the sheriff’s department in Hamilton County, Ohio, that’s exactly what happened to him. Harmon alleges that the cops kicked the crap out of him because he was driving while having diabetes.

Driving with diabetes while being black, of course…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Police Need to Learn That Tasers Don’t Help Diabetics”

Many of you know that the headline is the punchline to an awesome Dave Chappelle joke about black people and chicken. As far as I know, it is the only joke about black people and chicken (fried or otherwise) that is acceptable for white people to retell in 2010 America. I say again, it’s the only joke white people are allowed to make on this subject. (I’ll accept new submissions from African-American comedians — surely Kat Williams has something.) Obviously, if your name is Bill Maher, you are exempt from this rule, but that’s because Maher is pretty much the only white man in America who has figured out how to joke about Obama’s race, and he does so brilliantly.

For all other white people, I think this is a bright-line rule that should be easy to follow. They’re really not that many of them: you can’t make jokes about fried chicken or watermelon, you can’t use the “N”-word, you can’t comment on black women’s hair because you have no freaking idea what you’re dealing with. In exchange, you got a 300-year head start in this country, nobody ever profiles you, and just to be nice we’ll leave you hockey for your own sporting domination. That’s a good deal, right? There are a handful of jokes I can make that you cannot; if you think you’re getting the short end of the stick, call up a single mother living in the Bronx and ask her if she wants to trade.

Really, I didn’t think I had to write down the “no fried chicken jokes” rule. But the law firm of Morgan Hill in Washington State made me realize that sometimes you have to spell things out for people. Every Christmas, they send out their holiday party invitation in the form of a satirical newspaper. The flier contains funny, made-up stories about the big legal news items of the year in Washington.

At least, it’s supposed to be funny. This year, the invitation missed the mark. Badly….

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JoEllen Lyons Dillon

Pennsylvania legal circles are buzzing over a discrimination lawsuit filed yesterday in federal district court by a partner in the Pittsburgh office of Reed Smith. One source who informed us of the suit referred to “some really interesting allegations” against the firm.

A corporate and energy law partner at Reed Smith, JoEllen Lyons Dillon, alleges that her firm pays and promotes women less than men. Yawn; that’s definitely not “really interesting.” While unfortunate — or even outrage-inducing — if true, one could say the same thing about dozens, if not hundreds, of large law firms.

Far more interesting is Dillon’s claim that “work was diverted … to female attorneys who were willing to engage in sexual relations with members of [Reed Smith] management or with whom members of [Reed Smith] management had sought to engage in such relations.” Dillon alleges that because she “did not engage in such relations,” she was professionally penalized.

David DeNinno

Dillon decided instead to have “relations” with her husband, resulting in the birth of twins. After she took time off to take care of the two tots, “her total compensation decreased, by almost half,” according to the complaint. Dillon claims that when she objected to this pay cut, partner David DeNinno, former chair of the Business & Finance Department at RS, asked if she was “done having babies yet.”

That’s just for starters. Dillon claims to have more dirt on her firm….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Discrimination Lawsuit Potpourri: Reed Smith and Akin Gump”

The Harvard-Yale Game was this weekend. I didn’t attend. I’m at that uncomfortable age where I’m too old to go to The Game and get black-out drunk at the keg, but too young to show up in a fur coat handing out glasses of Cristal (rhymes with “Mystal”) while my butler grills porterhouse steaks out of the back of my Range Rover.

I look forward to going to The Game in the future, but I’m really glad I didn’t go this year. If I had, I might have been arrested. Seriously, you would have logged on to Above the Law this morning and been entertained by my “Letter From a Boston Jail” or something.

Because if I had gone to The Game, I probably would have gone to the party hosted by the Harvard’s Black Law Student Association (and other affinity groups) at a new Boston club called Cure Lounge. And had I gone to that, when the club owners shut down the party essentially because too many black people were gathering in one place, I would have had major objections and been thrown in jail for “being an angry black person in Boston” (or whatever the hell they are calling it these days).

CORRECTION: According to the Harvard BLSA president, “Harvard BLSA was not involved in organizing or running the party in question…. [T]he event was run by a group that is not affiliated with Harvard BLSA or Harvard Law School. Harvard BLSA did cover the ticket cost of several members who attended the party.”

I wouldn’t have been able to adjust quickly enough to being back in a place like Boston, so I would have gone nuclear when somebody suggested that too many African-American Harvard and Yale students might attract “gang-bangers.”

Was there a lawyer in the line outside the club who could have objected? Actually, it wouldn’t have mattered….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Racism Will Find You, Even at the Harvard-Yale Game”

It seems like such a simple proposition: if a police officer stops you, he has to have a reason. He doesn’t have to have to be right. He doesn’t even need a particularly good reason. He just needs a legitimate reason.

And the reason can’t be based on the color of a person’s skin.

Why is this simple rule so hard for our law enforcement officers to understand? Why do they resist it? Why do they get defensive when civilians ask them to state their legitimate reasons (if any) for pulling somebody over? Why do police act like the motivations of the police are beyond questioning? Why can’t they answer a direct question about their reasons for pulling people over?

The reason can’t be based on the color of a person’s skin.

Why is it so hard for some police officers and administrators to accept that? Why does the Department of Justice need to send threatening letters to the LAPD, reminding them that they have to actually investigate claims of racial profiling and harassment?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “DOJ to Police: Racial Profiling Is Still Wrong and You Still Need to Stop Doing It”

There is nothing I hate more than people who try to use the law to change the facts of history or science. I hate when Creationists try to take their Sunday School teachings into science class. I hate when Confederates try to retell the “War of Northern Aggression” in a way that ignores the abject racism that started the entire conflict. And I hate when parents sue because history textbooks aren’t sanitized to include enough bunny rabbits and rainbows when they are educating children about slavery.

That last thing is new. I only realized parents like this existed when I read a story in the Macomb Daily (gavel bang: ABA Journal). Apparently an African-American parent got angry over “outrageous statements” in a textbook used in his daughter’s class. The outrage: the textbook used the n-word… in the context of teaching children about the history of slavery in this country.

He claims his daughter was traumatized by the book, and he’s seeking more than $25,000 damages from the school.

Please God, let’s hope he doesn’t get it. Everybody should be “traumatized” by slavery when they first hear about it in grade school. It was a goddamn traumatic thing to put people through. And we can’t live in a world where that trauma is banished from our history books….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Lawsuit of the Day: Parent Sues School for Teaching His Daughter About Slavery”

Earlier this week, we brought you the story of Nelson v. Jones Day — a discrimination lawsuit filed against Jones Day by Jaki Nelson, an African-American woman who worked at JD for almost 18 years. Some of the allegations in Nelson’s complaint — use of racial slurs by firm partners and administrators, sex scandals, and rampant bullying — were salacious and incendiary. If you haven’t already done so, read more about them in our earlier post.

As litigators well know, however, there are two (or more) sides to every story. And this lawsuit is no exception.

(We’re reminded of Aaron Charney’s lawsuit against Sullivan & Cromwell, alleging anti-gay discrimination. Based on the same reporting, some viewed that lawsuit as Philadelphia: The Sequel, while others saw it as an oversensitive and entitled associate suing a firm with no anti-gay bias — and numerous gay partners and associates.)

After we published our post, sources came forward to defend Jones Day and the lawyers mentioned in the complaint — and to dish dirt on the plaintiff, Jaki Nelson….

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There are two ways to make diversity mean something to Biglaw partners. The first involves clients caring about whether or not their legal counsel has made a commitment to diversity. The second involves incoming and lateral talent caring about whether or not they go to a diverse workplace.

But for people to make informed decisions about these issues, they need hard numbers.

Thankfully, we’ve got some hard numbers. Thanks to the hard work of the people at NALP and at Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP), we’ve got some statistics showing that diversity is taking a hit, thanks to recession — but the pain isn’t being spread to all firms evenly.

This is news you can use, especially if you’re considering going to a handful of firms that we’re about to mention….

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Don't pull a Prince Harry this Halloween.

I hate this holiday. I hated this holiday as a kid for personal safety reasons. As an adult, it’s pretty clear that Halloween has devolved into nothing more than an excuse for girls to dress up as sluts and guys to be racist. That’s what it is, the one day where everybody can get away with their inappropriate or insensitive fantasies (unless you are Prince Harry).

The problem is, not everybody is on the same page. For instance, if I see a person dressed up as a “tribal chieftain” in some kind of get up that would be offensive on any other day of the year, I laugh it off. In exchange for my restraint, when I see a girl dressed up as “Booberella” I’m going to make lecherous comments I’d normally save for when she was out of ear shot. Quid pro quo, mofos; I’ll put my cards away if you lay down yours.

But not everybody thinks like me. So be careful out there this Halloween. For you edification, the Connecticut Employment Law Blog has compiled a list of horrors from Halloween past….

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If you spend any time around criminal defense lawyers, progressive lawyers, or people in a black barber shop, you’ll hear the claim that African-American criminal defendants receive harsher sentences than their white counterparts. People have done studies about this, people have written reports about this, people have held conferences about this institutional expression of discrimination.

Rarely do we see anybody trying to do anything about it. There are many reasons this fundamental unfairness persists, but only one of those reasons makes any sense: at the end of the day, nobody wants to be more lenient on a convicted criminal just because that criminal is black. And nobody wants to be more harsh towards a white criminal just because he’s white. So while we have these wide variations in sentencing outcomes, judges can’t re-balance the system from the bench. They have to sentence the criminal in front of them.

But that doesn’t mean judges are blind to the racial injustice of the system. And it doesn’t mean that judges can’t do what they have to in order to make sure that a particular punishment fits the crime.

I’m sure that Judge Joseph Williams of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, will be making all of those arguments shortly. Because he just threw out a plea on the grounds that the prosecutor had been too lenient on the young criminal, just because the criminal is white.

And to be clear, this wasn’t a passing or offhand remark from Judge Williams. Instead, he really laid into the prosecutor in this case…

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