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Real Pleadings: Sex Discrimination Case Against Oslers

Another woman lawyer has sued a Toronto law firm for sex discrimination. [See the earlier lawsuit filed against McCarthy Tetrault].    This time, it is a woman named Jaime Laskis, from Dalhousie Law School, who is suing the New York office of Osler.

Here is her statement of claim filed in the New York courts.

These types of cases usually follow a similar narrative.  The woman alleges that she was a very good lawyer, that her reviews were excellent, until some moment when things turn sour.  Then suddenly she is told she is a crappy lawyer, that she has no future, and she is either dismissed or driven out of the firm.  There is also usually a villain or two, men who are alleged to be sexist pigs.   The firm, for its part, always responds by painting the woman as the incompetent lawyer who could not cut it.

This is the story here as well.  There a couple of alleged pigs in this case, but the lead pig is a guy named Kevin Cramer.   Laskis alleges things began to turn sour when Cramer arrived at the firm.  He is alleged to have said about women, among other things:

*   that Harvard Law School was full of pretty women ‘pretending to get a legal education’

*   that women lawyers at the firm who take maternity leave will be taken off the partner track

*  that the reason he hates working with woman lawyers is that they just get pregnant and leave, and “out of every three years, you only get one good one”

* he told Laskis that she “needs to be more than just a pretty face” and that she “wasn’t helping herself coming to work looking well put together”

Cramer started giving Laskis poor reviews, and Laskis complained about Cramer’s sexist comments to management.  Soon after, he was put into sensitivity training, and she was  dismissed.  This is basically the narrative described in the statement of claim.  She also alleges that Osler’s managing partner told at least one other firm not to hire Laskis.

Her lawsuit alleges sex discrimination and retaliation for raising human rights concerns with the employer.   Osler hasn’t filed its response yet.

If Cramer did say these things, why do you think Osler hasn’t just fired his ass?  Should he be fired for making illegal sexist comments?  Cramer is still there, and Laskis is gone.  Why do you think that is?

ANSWER:  There are Neanderthals  who say these sorts of things roaming the halls of large (and small) law firms everywhere.  If they make the firms lots of money, it is very unlikely that they will be shown the door, no matter how offensive they are.

The difficulty for Laskis will be proving that the sexist comments explain the reason she was fired.  Osler will no doubt argue that Laskis was the most incompetent lawyer ever, notwithstanding that some inappropriate comments were made to her.

Time for Mandatory Disclosure of Information About Law Firm Treatment of Women?

The best way to make firms deal harshly with sexist male partners is to ensure that the top female lawyers and law students don’t want to come to the firm. I’ve argued before that the law (or law societies) should require law firms to publish information about the treatment of women, such as percentage of women on major committees (such as the compensation committee, managing boards), the percentage of female partners, and the gender breakdown on the compensation scales. This is information that is clearly relevant to the labour market but that is not otherwise available to the market.  I suspect the top female students would be very interested in this information in selecting where to work, but it would be self-defeating to start asking questions like this at a job interview.

Therefore, the law needs to step in and require information disclosure as a market correcting device.  Even my neo-conservative economic friends should support market correcting information disclosure regulation like the type I’ve proposed.  Firms might pay greater attention to their treatment of women if their dirty laundry will be aired in public for all prospective women lawyers to analyze. Amazingly, the law societies have not yet acted on my proposals (that was sarcasm).

We’ll keep our eyes on the Osler case.

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3 Responses to Real Pleadings: Sex Discrimination Case Against Oslers

  1. Ryan Reply

    February 15, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    I hope we see the claimant sucess here – who knows….could drag on a little while….

  2. Christina Catenacci Reply

    February 16, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Thank you for raising our awareness regarding this issue.

    I find it disappointing that in the year 2011 we are still seeing these kinds of claims commenced by brave female associates in law firms who are courageous enough to speak out about their negative experiences. Most do not, given the unwritten code of silence that exists within law firms.

    This is why I agree with your proposal of mandatory reporting by law firms. In my view, female lawyers in law firms would not respond honestly about the culture of their firm and the firm’s treatment of women until they have left the firm – so the law firms should have to report even more information such that outsiders can get an accurate picture of the firm and create their own impression of its culture before choosing to become an employee there.

    In light of the fact that numerous females are paying membership fees to their law societies, it only makes sense that these law societies support their female members by requiring law firms to provide and make accessible the following information annually:

    • The percentage of women who article with the firm, are hired on as associates with the firm, who belong to each practice area in the firm; and who become partners of the firm;

    • The percentage of female associates on the partnership track versus the percentage of female associates who are not on the partnership track;

    • The percentage of senior female associates compared to senior male associates at the firm;

    • The percentage of women on major committees in the firm;

    • The percentage of female associates who have a mentor in the firm and who are provided with the required mentoring and resources to grow a practice of their own for the long-term (this may overlap with the partnership track question, but answers may vary if this question is asked);

    • The compensation scales for male and female articling students, associates, and partners in the firm.

    In my opinion, this proposal is reasonable and fair – female lawyers should be able to make informed decisions prior to signing on with any law firm.

    Thanks,
    Christina

  3. Sharon Maloney Reply

    March 15, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I absolutely agree with requiring law firms to publish aggregate information about the position of women in law firms. The current program that the Law Society of Upper Canada has introduced is ineffective as it does not require the publication of the aggregate information that the large law firms are collecting. Members should be questioning the candidates for bencher about their position on this and what they think should be done to address the ongoing sexist environment within the profession.

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