New York Female Lawyers Face Courtroom Bias, Harassment, Says Study

By Douglas Lipsky

A recent study by the New York State Judicial Committee on Women in Courts examining the experience of women in the court system found that female attorneys continue to face sexual harassment and are more likely to have their credibility questioned. 

While the committee made recommendations for addressing these systemic problems, women who have been subjected to discrimination and harassment in the workplace have rights under state and federal law, rights that extend to the court system. The best way to enforce these rights is to consult with an experienced employment discrimination attorney.

Sexual Harassment in the New York Court System

More than 5,000 attorneys participated in the committee’s Gender Survey 2020; of the respondents who identified their gender, 49% were women and 51% were male. The survey was essentially a progress report of how the experience of women has changed since an earlier 1986 study. 

Though there are more female judges, women admitted to practice, and female court employees today, the study found that women still face higher levels of sexual harassment than men and are more likely to have their credibility questioned. Moreover, nearly half of the female attorneys reported experiencing unwelcome physical contact from their peers. 

“Whether female attorneys experience unwelcome physical contact varied widely by which group were the actors in such harassment,” the committee reported. 

The study found many female responders were not only subjected to unwelcome physical contact from attorneys in the court system but verbal and nonverbal harassment or obscene gestures. While fewer women said they experienced harassment from judges or nonjudicial personnel, some responders said judges ignored such misconduct by male attorneys or court officers.

A key concern for attorneys responding to the survey is the reporting mechanisms for reporting sexual harassment: only 31 percent of female attorneys and 49% of male attorneys said they knew how to report misconduct in the court system. The committee recommended that court administrators publicize reporting procedures and create protocols to protect those who do report misconduct. 

Bias Against Women Attorneys in the New York Courts

The Gender Survey also found that:

  • 51 percent of female attorneys believe that judges appear to give more credibility to the arguments of male attorneys
  • More than 30 percent of female attorneys said male judges impose a greater burden of proof on female litigants than male litigants. 
  • More than 60 percent of the survey’s female respondents said judges fail to intervene to correct any negative conduct toward women

The committee recommended that (1) judges who witness bias should appropriately intervene and (2) court administrators should mandate training for judges and court employees on implicit bias based on gender, age, and race. 

Why This Matters

While the committee’s study reported improvements on bias and harassment in the court system, female attorneys continue to be subjected to discrimination and harassment. At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we are committed to eliminating discrimination in all its forms and leveling the playing field for our female colleagues.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.