In the beginning of October, the New York Times published an article exposing Harvey Weinstein as a predator. Weinstein in turn threatened to sue the Times. Then an avalanche of stories came to light, including commentary by Lena Dunham. Dunham stated that:
His behavior, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere…
The use of power to possess and silence women is as likely to occur in a fast-food restaurant as it is on a movie set…
Does the legal world have a similar problem of harassment?
Unfortunately, many of the alleged tactics used by Harvey Weinstein is not special to Hollywood. Harassing, defaming, blacklisting, demeaning someone also occurs in the legal world. This behaviour is similarly co-signed by employees and collaborators.
In Butterfield (Re), 2017 LSBC 2, a law student at the University of Victoria launched a complaint against her employer for sexual harassment. He made comments about her clothing. He asked her about her relationship status. He made a joke about her being a prostitute, and he made several unwanted advances towards her. When this came to light, the lawyer was disciplined by the Law Society. However, he did not lose his licence to practice law.
Surprisingly, the disciplinary hearing wrote that: “There is no prior decision of the Law Society of British Columbia on sexual harassment as professional misconduct.” This line speaks volumes. It speaks to whose voices have been heard, and whose have not. This 2017 case should not have been the first case of sexual harassment as professional misconduct. Sexual harassment is not foreign to the legal industry.
In the 2013 article “Canadian Law Students Who Article Are Vulnerable to Abuse“, Professor Adam Dodek wrote about harassment and the flawed nature of our articling system. Articling students make up about 4 per cent of the legal population. However, they account for 22 per cent of all complaints of discrimination and harassment to the Law Society. “And yes, 75 per cent of the complaints from students are from women.”
Professor Dodek cited “the lack of quality control over what actually goes on in articling” and “the systemic inequalities created by the articling system.” as facilitators for harassment. He concluded that articling is not inherently unethical but ignoring the abuses that occur in articling and failing to regulate them is unethical.
I completely agree with Professor Dodek. And I only hope that the public dialogue sparked by the New York Times article leads to change.
(Views are my own and do NOT represent the views of any organization.)