In the employment arena, sexual harassment claims often involve unfair work assignments, sexual propositions, office romances and discriminatory or retaliatory treatment. These common workplace problems occur within all categories of employment and among all types of employers. Law firms are no exception. A recent lawsuit filed against a prestigious law firm demonstrates that no one is immune from these problems.
Nationally Recognized New Jersey Law Firm on the Defensive
The law firm McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, a nationally recognized New Jersey based law firm with offices in New York, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Delaware, has been accused of terminating a female associate after she complained of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. One interesting allegation is that the firm requires all female associates to sign a release and confidentiality agreement before they can socialize with male attorneys after hours.
Female Associate Claims Disparate Treatment of Female Associates
The plaintiff, Elina Chechelnitsky, alleges that male associates at the firm were treated better than their female co-workers on a variety of levels. Male associates, she claims, received better work assignments which provided them with large bonuses, whereas female associates were routinely given non-billable assignments. Additionally, social events provided for female associates were allegedly very sparse and did not allow for any networking opportunities with the partners of the firm.
Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Retaliation
Elina alleges that she met one of the notable partners of the firm, Lou Modugno. Modugno began giving her very desirable assignments. While working on those assignments, she met another of the firm's associates, Greg Trif, who began flirting with her almost immediately. To make a long story short, Elina began dating Trif. She later discovered, however, that Modugno only gave her the assignments because he was attracted to her. To make matters worse, Modugno arranged the assignments so that he could set her up with one of his favorite associates, Trif. When Elina broke off the relationship, her favorable assignments ceased.
Female Associate Terminated After Lodging Discrimination Complaints
Luckily, Elina refused to sign the "socializing" release, or she would have given up her right to file a lawsuit. She alleges that, after making complaints about the lack of gender equality at the firm, she was terminated. Of course, the law firm denies all of these allegations. How this lawsuit will ultimately be resolved remains to be seen.
How to Know If You Are Being Sexually Harassed
Although each individual's situation can vary factually, there are a few things that can signal possible harassment based on sex. According to the EEOC, "sexual harassment" is defined as "[u]nwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature." Such interaction can have a serious impact on an employee's wellbeing—and may even put their job or position on the line.
In the employment context, such behavior is unlawful under these circumstances:
- Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, or
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or
- Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment
It is important to understand that the term "unwelcome" does not necessarily mean "involuntary." In some cases, victims feel coerced or compelled to participate, even though the harassment offensive and objectionable. In any case, legal action can be taken to fight sexual harassment. If have been the victim of such advances or discrimination, a Birmingham sexual harassment attorney can get on your side and help you take legal action against the offending party.
If you have any questions regarding your employment rights or would like to know your options in pursuing a lawsuit, please contact our firm, Wrady Michel & King , at (205) 265-1880 to request your initial consultation.