Monday, November 12, 2018

Looking At the Bright Side of Life

I haven’t written in this blog for awhile - there is such a news overload that it’s hard for me to settle on any one subject. A lot of the news is bad - mass shootings, murders, separating children from parents, fires raging, hurricanes. Elections.

Too much negativity.  Let’s concentrate on the good news:

1.  Missourians overwhelmingly passed Amendment I, the Clean Missouri Constitutional Amendment - an amendment aimed at reducing, and, dare I say, eliminating, political corruption. No outlandish lobbyist gifts, limits on Legislators jumping over to cushy lobbying gigs, fairer re-districting. A decade from now, we will see if things are better in Jeff City.

2.  We get a new Missouri Attorney General (“always look at the bright side of life,”).

3.  We have a less-crazy governor.

4.  Missourians overwhelmingly approved gradually increasing the minimum wage.

5.  No new gas tax - good for the pocketbook, bad for the tires.

6.  As far as I can tell, no Nazis were elected to Missouri office. No KKK, either.

We must celebrate all the victories we can get - always look at the bright side of life. Doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Everyday Courage

People perform daily acts of courage that are unrecognized.  These people do not seek the limelight. My clients who are first responders save others frequently. Firefighters in general risk their lives as part of their jobs on a frequent basis.  I am awed by what they routinely do as a matter of course.  They run in burning buildings when others flee. Courage is so ingrained in them, they do not realize how exceptional they are.

I just want to honor those souls who put their own safety aside in furthering the common good.  I consider Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as courageous, since they have both been targets of threats and can no longer lead happy, anonymous lives.  They came forward, regardless of the dire consequences.  They are models for young women striking out against sexual abuse.

Members of our military, members of police departments, members of resistance groups such as Rev. William Barber, II, and many others, take risks for others without thought of fame or wealth. We fail to recognize the courageous among us.  Yet, they seek no notoriety or acclaim.  Their courage is so ingrained in who they are and they seek no special acclaim.

Here is to those unsung heroes among us. Thank you. We need people like you.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Courageous Jurors

It’s really hard to be a whistleblower, or to complain about discrimination.  Most of us just hope that we can live our lives and people will be fair.  It’s hard to rock the boat. I’ve written a lot about the courageous clients I represent.  Going forth with a lawsuit is hard and it takes a lot of fortitude to persist through a lawsuit.  I have represented many people who have much more courage than I.  They withstand insults and lies and interrogations that would make normal people break.

But, I really want to talk about courage of a different group of people, who, when they treat their responsibilities seriously, which they most often do, display great courage and fortitude.  Those people are the jurors.  Many people dread receiving that little card through the mail summoning them for their civic duty.  Yet, most people take their task very seriously once selected to stand in judgment of their fellow citizens.

There is something about being chosen for jury duty that transforms the reluctant bystander into a vehicle for justice. Serving on a jury oftentimes brings out the best in someone.  A typical juror listens attentively to the evidence with an open mind.  They form opinions from the evidence, yet are open-minded enough to give the other jurors their due.  A responsible juror speaks up and confronts others with their convictions, and doesn’t worry about missing television programs or PTA meetings.  The juror understands the importance of our justice system and their vital role in the preservation of our democracy.   Jurors don’t ask to serve.  In fact, most people wouldn’t volunteer for a week or so interruption from their normal activities.  Yet, once summoned to serve, it is uncanny how Americans rise to the occasion, and most often get it right.

When our forefathers instilled in our Bill of Rights the right to a jury of one’s peers in both criminal and civil cases, they understood the best about human nature.   They understood the basis of courage,  decency and fairness in our citizens.  They also understood that, in order to serve justice, people need to be judged by a jury of their peers, not just by judges from privileged backgrounds.  Our nation has the best justice system on earth, in large part due to the courage of its citizens.  Long live the jury system.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Mindfulness and Crocheting - In These Turbulent Times

Lawyers are stressed, just as so many other people are in other walks of life. I have practiced yoga, and it was great. I learned to meditate, and it was great. I’ve exercised to reduce stress, and it was great.

But lately I have not been practicing yoga much, or exercising much, nor do I meditate daily. I inadvertently stumbled upon another method to achieve mindfulness, without realizing it. When I was a teenager I learned to crochet. I was so bad. I did not have the patience to crochet anything but a scarf, and that was awful. So, for some reason, 45 years later, I picked up a crochet hook again. When I crochet, I am in the moment. I don’t think about the future or the past. I just concentrate on what I’m doing. Crocheting is meditative.

I guess I am the sort of person who needs to achieve a meditative state. Especially while children are being ripped from their asylum-seeking parents.  That makes me crazy. Especially in these crazy times I have to calm down.  I resumed crocheting in October.  Since then, I have created seven afghans, and I am working on my eighth. I have crocheted at least ten scarves and two hats. I can’t sit down in the evening without a project in my hands. I read and listen to the sad news, and I just crochet more. I can’t stop. I suppose crocheting is an innocuous addiction, as long as it does not interfere with my obligations in life. So far so good.

So, if you find a pile of yarn, I’ll be there. If you are cold in the winter, and want something to warm your legs, I’ll be there. If you neck is freezing and you need a scarf, I’ll be there. I must be the freakin’ Tom Joad of this dust bowl of political inhumanity. I just need some yarn and a hook to forget about the many problems in this world. (And I email Roy Blunt, but that is less satisfying.)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Observations After Practicing Law for 35 Years

What have I learned after 35 years as a civil rights lawyer?  You would think I would have wisdom to impart to young lawyers, but the more I consider the span of my career, the less wise I have become. Here goes:

1.  Social change takes too long. It’s one step forward, two steps back. We still don’t have discrimination laws in this state and the federal government protecting against LGBTQ discrimination. Race discrimination, sexual harassment, age discrimination all persist.

2.  Going to trial does not get easier.  Representing courageous clients in worthwhile causes is still as challenging as ever, even though my trial skills have improved over 35 years. The importance of my clients and their cases in my hands is still as daunting as ever.

3.  It’s important not to take perceived slights, such as losing objections, etc., personally.  It’s important to remember my cases are about my clients, not about me. While I admit I have an ego, I can’t let it get the better of me.  I owe my clients to put them first.  Wins are about them and are their triumphs. Perhaps losses are more my fault than wins are to my credit.  The clients are what are important.

4.  A trial is a zero sum game, while settling cases can be a win-win scenario.  Settling cases requires a different skill set than is necessary for trial. A good lawyer can master both skill sets, but going from one to the other is challenging.

5.  Being a trial lawyer with 35 years experience is as challenging, and rewarding, as being a novice attorney.

6.  As Dr. King said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (See number 1, above.)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Why You Should Complain About Sexual Harassment

Many women are confronted with sexual harassment yet do not complain.  Most who do not complain fear retalation.  I would like to say that people who report sexual harassment are legally protected against retaliation, which they are, and that, therefore, they are not subjected to retaliation.  Unfortunately, it is human nature that when one person complains about another, the other gets mad and attempts to get even. That should not stop someone who is being harassed from coming forward. Sexual harassment is serious and those who harass generally do not stop on their own.  In fact, sexual harassers often escalate f not stopped.

I have beeen practicing employment law for any years and have seen many improvements in the way women are treated in the work place.  While sexual harassment is still ongoing, I see fewer cases of bosses fondling their female subordinates, fewer cases of sexual propositioning, and fewer cases of sexual talk in the workplace.  I attribute this decrease to employers’ enforcement of their policies.  

That is not to say that it is easy to complain.  It takes considerable courage to complain of sexual harassment in the workplace.  But it is worthwhile to complain, not just for one’s own self-esteem, but also to protect others.  It’s a sad situation when someone like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby has had the opportunity to sexually assaulted dozens of women. We have put up with this conduct far too long.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Jurors and Justice

When I was a young lawyer, many years ago, male lawyer told me “women jurors hate women.” I heard that statement dozens of times. I didn’t want to believe it, but I was worried that “old husband’s tale” was true. It’s not. People are individuals, each with his or her own implicit biases. There is nothing to generalize. Each person does his or her best while serving on a jury.

Our last jury was comprised of six women of the seven person jury. Our trial team had three women, while the other side was all men. I believe that the jurors’ gender was irrelevant. The decision had to be unanimous and the jurors talked to us afterward. The man and the women were on the same page. In this age of Trump, jurors are as decent and fair and intelligent as always. They usually get it right, even when they render a verdict I don’t like.

In October, we tried a challenging race discrimination case. The predominantly white jury rendered a unanimous verdict in favor of our African American client, even though only 9 of 12 were needed, in record time.

Most jurors serve this important civic duty with fairness, patience and dignity. Our country may be divided politically, but when it comes to jury service, our citizens respond with courage and intelligence. Our jury system is the best is the best legal system in the world.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Persistence of Unlawful Discrimination

In 1991, when I was still a young lawyer, Congress passed amendments to Title VII - The Civil Rights Act of 1964. For the first time, trials would be decided by a jury, not a judge, and plaintiffs could recover damages for emotional distress and punitive damages. I had always been interested in civil rights, so I decided that discrimination law was the type of law I wanted to practice. Up until 1991, I tried personal injury and business cases. I was excited to handle sexual harassment and race discrimination cases. The law applied to causes of action that occurred after the amendments in 1991. In 1994, I tried my first three sexual harassment cases. I decided to handle discrimination cases for the next ten years, since surely after ten years employment discrimination would be eradicated by the new law.

It is now twenty-seven years since Congress amended Title VII.  I am no longer a “young” lawyer, in fact I am rather mature. My caseload of race discrimination and sexual harassment cases, along with age and disability discrimination cases, has only increased. Recently, I have seen an uptick in sexual harassment and race discrimination.  Discrimination is sometimes more subtle, but it sure still exists.

I admire my clients, who demonstrate more courage than is imagineable.  They are constantly fighting back, combatting pernicious discrimination in their own lives, one case at a time. I keep reminding myself of the words of Dr. King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Let’s Be Fair - We Must Investigate Sexual Harassment

Lately, thankfully, women, especially movie stars, have come forward to expose sexual harassment.  The most notable harasser is Harvey Weinstein, with over 100 accusers. Sexual harassers usually don’t harass in a vacuum.  They are repeat offenders. I feel confident that Weinstein is a despicable sexual reprobate.

However, sometimes, recently, we may have forgotten that there could be another side to the matter. I know my belief that sexual harassment must be proven may strike some people as shocking. I handle sexual harassment claims, but there are reasons I believe my clients.  It may be the corroboration by co-workers, the repeated complaints, or the credibility of the parties.  However, we must be careful. I fear that we could get to a point where a mere accusation without merit, can ruin a man.

I am a feminist, but we must be fair. There is a lot of sexual harassment out there, but merely because someone is accused does not make it so.

In our sexual harassment cases, we generally have corroboration or multiple complaints. “Time is up” for sexual harassment.  The ‘Me, too” movement has helped scores of women. But we cannot forget that some accusations may be false.  We do not want to have a Joe McCarthy mentality.  To the brave women coming forward who have been harassed, I commend you and recognize how hard it is to come forward.  But, we need to not make knee-jerk judgments.  It helps no one to vilify those who may be innocent.  I hope I and others can vindicate women with valid claims and investigate to know the difference.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Loving Woman

A couple of days ago, my husband’s aunt succumbed to cancer. She was an amazing woman. Oftentimes, the mettle of a person is not evident until crisis strikes. This woman knew the cancer was fatal. She knew she had weeks or days to live. She faced her fears in an honorable fashion. War heroes, presidents, and members of Seal teams can envy the way she comported herself.

This woman was consumed not by cancer, but by love. She posted regularly on Facebook, up until the evening before she died. She did not post of fear nor of panic, but she posted messages of love, to her friends, her daughters and her granddaughters. This woman posted photos of those she loved the most with messages of caring and devotion, so that her loved ones will never doubt her dying devotion.

I was a voyeur, awaiting each post which showed me the wonderful, caring person she was. Her friends, daughters and granddaughters are grief-stricken, but are so fortunate to have had this woman in their lives. When her life was waning, she cared only for her loved ones. She left them with a legacy of caring, kindness and mercy. She was dying, but she wanted to care for them.

I am awestruck by the love and caring I witnessed merely from being her Facebook friend. This woman was the kind of grandmother, mother, and person that we should all strive to emulate.