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Can Women Be Penalized for Working Too Much?

As firms begin to allow women to work part time, will we see discrimination against women who choose not to? Apparently, a woman partner's decision to spend time at the office instead of family earned her criticism from other firm shareholders, as reported in this article, Lawyer Sues Her Downtown Firm (11/11/06).

Of course, there's more to the story than just that issue. According to the report, Alyson Kirleis, an employment lawyer herself, filed an EEOC complaint and, subsequently, a federal discrimination suit against her longtime law firm, Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, alleging claims in the nature of a hostile work environment. From the article:

Kirleis says, Wilbur McCoy Otto, chairman of the law firm's board of directors, told her that her priorities were out of order because she spent too much time working and not enough time with her family. Kirleis is married and has two young sons.  Otto told Kirleis that "women whose priorities were straight were those who relinquished their status as shareholders in the firm and who worked part-time so as to be able to spend more time with their husbands and children," she alleges in the lawsuit[...]

Kirleis claims Daniel P. Stefko, the firm's general counsel, told her in September 2004 that one of the firm's largest clients -- for whom Kirleis primarily worked -- "wanted only 'gray-haired guys' trying their cases." Because of that, Stefko told Kirleis that the "gals" in the firm would prepare the cases and male lawyers would try them, the lawsuit states.

Kirleis describes the workplace environment at the firm as "pervasively hostile towards women."  She says women are "constructively excluded" from firm functions, such as the Christmas party, "because of the sexually explicit nature of the entertainment including skits, songs, pornographic materials and props," the lawsuit states.

As law firms move towards accommodating work-life balance, can we expect more claims along the lines of "I was discriminated against for working too much"?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 13, 2006 at 04:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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