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.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Spotlight on Kindness

School shootings, dead children, Russia probes, Neanderthal legislation, lack of common sense legislation. It’s too much. I don’t want to think any more about murdered children. Let’s go positive.

We have a Boston Terrier with epilepsy. Mimi has a severe seizure disorder. She is medicated four times a day, taking a total of fifteen or so pills daily. Her bouts of seizures, which are severe, cycle every three to five weeks, with five to ten seizures wracking her brain and her body over two to four days. We love Mimi and we have adjusted to her disorder.

Mimi is a rescue dog. Two families with small children were overwhelmed by the disorder. We were Mimi’s last hope.  Mimi is the sweetest, most affectionate dog you can imagine. She sweetly gazes into our eyes, sleeps on our laps, wags her tail constantly, doesn’t mind cuddling and is our grandchild substitute. We couldn’t love her more. We feel more protective of her because of her special needs.

Mimi is black with a white belly, and a whites vertical stripe between her eyes. At night, when she goes into the back yard, she disappears into the night.  One night, a couple of months ago, during the frigid weather we suffered through, Mimi wanted to go outside after dark into our fenced yard to do her business. After several minutes, she failed to fling herself on the back door, her way of knocking.

We went out to find her and she was gone. Unbeknownst to us, our fence in the back corner of the yard behind the trees had a hole in it, and Mimi must have gone through the hole and disappeared. It was around 10:00 pm, pitch black, and freezing. Little 20 pound Mimi would not survive the elements for a whole night. We were devastated and searched the neighborhood. I drove the streets around our house and found nothing. She has a tag with the vet’s number and is chipped, but our concern was more immediate. She could not survive the night outside. The night was frigid.

My husband took his car out again and, miraculously, he found Mimi. Mimi was on a neighbor boy’s leash being walked by him down the street, hoping Mimi’s owner would see her. Mimi had gone through the fence and ended up in his yard on a busy street. This boy was probably a teen. He explained to my husband that when Mimi appeared in his yard, he brought her inside to warm her. After she warmed up, he took a leash from one of his pets and walked Mimi outside.

I do not know that I would have the presence of mind to bring a strange dog in from the cold. I am so grateful to this boy who took action, which saved our Mimi. The boy did the kind, caring thing and affirmed my faith in the goodness of people. Most people are kind and caring. We must remember that in times like these.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Shattering Stereotypes

I watched the movie “I Tonya” today. Tonya Harding was probably never given her due. She was short and stockier, more muscular, than most figure skaters. Sure, she came from a poorer family and there was that attack on Nancy Kerrigan, but I think Harding was also penalized for her curly hair, her muscular build, and her shortness. She did not have the slim, sleek lines of an elite figure skater. The judges didn’t think she looked the part.

We stereotype people and we stereotype what powerful people should look like. In Moneyball, in both the book and movie, traditionally scouts picked prospects who “looked” like sluggers. Sabermetrics, based on analytical, statistical data, has revolutionized baseball.   Jose Altuve shows us the fallacy of relying on stereotypes.

We stereotype powerful people. Most powerful people are educated white men. Latinos, African-Americans, women and other groups don’t fit in that cookie cutter.  But, this world is changing.

We all have biases. Some we recognize, some we don’t.  These biases are implicit. Once we face our pre-judgments, we can work on overcoming them.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sexually Harassed at Work - What Should You Do?

Your supervisor won’t keep his hands off you.  He massages your neck when you are seated at your desk. He rubs against you as he passes you in the hallway.  He tells you how bad his marriage is and how someone like you would be so much better. Or, he makes lewd suggestions, such as, “Why don’t you come here and sit on my face?”  He might even grind his pelvis into your backside or grab your breast.

This job is important to you. You have rent, a car payment and mouths to feed. You think, “Maybe if I ignore him or give him a dirty look, he will stop,”  But you know, in reality, the sexual innuendos and/or touching are getting worse, not stopping.

He’s not going to stop on his own. What are you going to do?  Are you going to just take it, and feel horrible about yourself?  Are you going to ask to move to a different supervisor or department, while worrying about the next women under his clutches?  Should you quit and quietly go away? Or, should you go to his boss or Human Resources and report him, while realizing he may retaliate against you or the boss may not believe you.

You have a dilemma and there are no guarantees that if you report, the workplace will be fixed.  I know how hard it is to report a harasser. I know it’s even harder to either file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or Missouri Commission on Human Rights, or even harder to seek legal counsel. There is no easy solution.

It takes courage to fight sexual harassment. Your work environment will probably change.  You may suffer retaliation, even though retaliation is unlawful. But don’t you have daughters, or nieces, or know little girls? Isn’t it painful to imagine those girls having to endure what you experience.

Fighting sexual harassment is the courageous way to go, for you and for other women. Most sexual harassers are serial harassers; you are not the first, and unless they are stopped, you won’t be the last. We are one day past the Women’s March in 2018. We hear about the “Me, Too” movement. Yet, nothing changes unless brave women come forward and stand up for themselves.  You can make a difference. Don’t just take it. You deserve so much more. You deserve self-respect.  You can make a difference.