Let the Buyer Beware: Law Firm Needs to Check Sexism Accusations

There is a trend in industry toward retaining legal counsel that is committed to inclusion and diversity. I recently wrote about how Facebook now requires its outside legal representatives to include women and minorities in 33 percent of their legal teams. Facebook isn’t alone in this—HP and MetLife have created similar rules. Perhaps legal powerhouse Norton Rose Fullbright should take this into consideration before acquiring the law firm of Chadbourne & Parke. Kerrie L. Campbell, the single remaining female partner at Chadbourne & Parke has just been voted out of the firm, which she says in retaliation for her lawsuit alleging that female partners are paid less and given fewer opportunities.

It certainly seems curious that of the five female partners from among 70, two have left the firm and the two remaining female partners have joined Campbell’s law suit. In my opinion, this is a red flag for Norton Rose Fullbright who should have done their due diligence before the merger.

In order to advance the cause of equality, workplace equity activists could take a lesson from the advertisers who left The O’Reilly Factor. By reaching out to clients like Facebook and HP and asking them to make their position on gender discrimination and pay inequity known to both firms, they may be able to hold the law firms accountable for fair practice. 

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

Cultural Transformation at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The sexual harassment issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been well documented. However, in the face of the settlement they’ve made to close the class-action lawsuit against them, I wonder how much the RCMP will truly transform its culture to correct the faults that led to this situation in the first place. As I’ve written in my new book (out in January!), sexual harassment in the workplace is often the result of power-dynamic bullying and can often result in retaliation against the employee being harassed. Complete cultural change is needed to root out a harassing culture as extensive as the one at the RCMP – as over 500 current and former employees were part of the sexual harassment lawsuit. While a formal apology to the victims is a good first step, we have yet to see the substantive details for the organizational makeover needed at the RCMP. Read more at The Globe and Mail.

Image: RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson, left, answers a question during a news conference, as plaintiffs Janet Merlo, centr, and Linda Davidson look on in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.
Credit: Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS via Globe & Mail.

Expanding the Inquiry at Fox News

It seems that in the fallout after the exit of Roger Ailes, Fox News is expanding its inquiry into what others within the organization knew about the sexual harassment allegations. However, it’s worth noting that the inquiry isn’t expanding into a full-scale cultural investigation – it’s still limited to Roger Ailes. While the Murdochs have to realize that they’d appear negligent not to expand their investigation to see who else was aware of Ailes’s behavior, they should open up their organization to the positive changes a comprehensive cultural review would bring to their organization. Not only would many employees probably feel better about the whole situation, but it would portray a positive image to viewers who might feel confused or deceived by Ailes’s harassment and subsequent departure. You can read more on this at The New York Times.

Image: Fox News at the 2016 DNC. Image Credit: Eric Thayer for NYT.

Is this the kind of company you would work for? Is this the kind of company you would invest with?

I have many thoughts on this particular story, where it seems that issues of harassment at the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, are coming to a head. Firstly, it’s important to note that it’s not just females who get harassed sexually in the workplace. Essentially, a male employee was repeatedly sexually propositioned and harassed by a male supervisor, and was discouraged to report this by both the culture of Bridgewater and its internal reporting systems. Not only are all confrontations at this company video-recorded for circulation amongst managers and executives, but the entire culture of the fund is built around aggressively questioning employees about their new ideas on the spot, a policy they call “radical transparency.” The thought is to allow great ideas to rise to the top based solely on merit, but it sounds like a recipe for workplace bullying. This particular case of sexual harassment shows that this culture kept the harassed employee from getting the help and recognition he needed; additionally, after filing claims with several labor and human rights organizations, it seems like the employee was forced to settle due to the confidentiality agreements all Bridgewater employees have to sign. Everything about this story, and this organization, seems suspect – how can an organization support so-called “radical transparency,” without allowing people to come forward about workplace bullying and sexual harassment? You can read more about the alleged harassment at The New York Times.

Main Image: Ray Dalio, the founder and CEO of Bridgewater Associates. Image by David A. Grogan for CNBC/Getty Images, via The Hive

Volkswagen, You're Not Fooling Anyone Anymore.

“The evidence paints the most detailed picture yet about how the deception unfolded and who was responsible.” Even though this will be sorted out in court, it seems that the evidence is indisputable: the highest levels of Volkswagen’s management were aware of the emissions scandal. There are even emails from board members begging for someone to “Come up with a story, please!” as law enforcement came closer and closer to discovering the truth. The board of VW should just come clean here – the longer they try to defend the indefensible, the more they put their organization at risk of financial bankruptcy. That should matter to them at least, considering that they are already morally bankrupt. You can read more about the new evidence in The New York Times.

Image: Maura Healey and Eric Schneiderman, the Massachusetts and New York Attorney Generals respectively, as they discuss the new lawsuits they're filing against Volkswagen, along with the state of Maryland. Credit: Bryan Thomas for NYT via NYT

Taking a Closer Look at Gretchen Carlson and Fox News

I have been giving a lot of thought to the situation arising between Fox News, Gretchen Carlson and Roger Ailes. There seem to be many sides to this in media at the moment – from female colleagues of Ailes defending his impeccable behavior, to anonymous female Fox News employees coming out in support of Carlson’s allegations of a sexist workplace culture. However, I can’t help but draw parallels between Fox’s current situation and that of the CBC when the Jian Ghomeshi sexual harassment scandal came to light. The way the CBC handled the situation, with little transparency, not only damaged their journalistic integrity, but allowed Ghomeshi to claim that he was the victim in a situation where, eventually, it was clear that he was in the wrong despite his acquittal. Additionally, the CBC focused on the particular case of sexual harassment, rather than on addressing their endemic culture of celebrity that allows certain individuals to harass with impunity.

While the CBC’s scandal arose in the arts and entertainment section of their business, Fox News is faced with a scandal that can seriously damage their journalistic integrity if it’s handled incorrectly. In order to maintain any sort of credibility, they will have to seriously examine not only Roger Ailes, but the culture of sexism that may or may not be present in their business. While some employees, like Greta Van Susteren, have stated that they have never experienced sexism in the Fox News environment, others seem to be coming forward to corroborate what Carlson is alleging (albeit anonymously). Either way, the internal investigation will need to be objective, comprehensive, and most importantly transparent with the public that watches Fox News daily for information. If it turns out that these allegations are false, it will only embolden predators at the workplace to continue to sexually harass their colleagues. Conversely, if Fox News shoves this lawsuit under the rug, it’ll be damming to their reputation as a reputable news organization. Either way, it should not be left to the court of public opinion to decide.

Image Credit: Fox News

Standing Up to Sexual Harassment

The news of Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes sounds all too familiar when bearing in mind the plights many women have to face in the workplace. Considering that Carlson’s show was at the top of its 2 PM time slot with an average of 1.1 million viewers, I would not be surprised to find that her accusations hold water. Being asked to perform sexually to assure the continuation of your contract, in addition to having to deal with what sounds like a sexist work environment, should be unacceptable for any employee. It’s heartening that Carlson is calling out Ailes despite his immense power in the communications industry – even those at the top of their fields should not be allowed to harass employees with impunity. You can read more on the lawsuit in The New York Times.

Image: Rich Polk/Getty Images for Variety

Collaboration or Exploitation? Arbitration in the Start-up Workplace

Arbitration clauses are coming to the forefront more and more these days. As start-ups go from being small businesses to large, valuable companies that employ thousands, it’s important to keep labor policies in mind. Like many bigger corporations, start-ups are widely instituting arbitration policies to protect themselves when they summarily fire employees based on arbitrary or unfair decision making. Arbitration may sound like “open collaboration” in solving problems, as the chief culture officer of WeWork stated in this article, but in reality, arbitration is severely tilted in the company’s favor. It prevents employees from banding together to complain, and prevents anything from really getting into court, where there’s a better chance that companies will actually be made to change their behavior. The perception of start-ups is that they’re run by young, hip entrepreneurs who care about their employees – why else would so many of these businesses be giving workers free beer, ping-pong tables and other perks? However, underneath the flashy incentives, we’re beginning to see a real return to exploitative business practices built to use employees. If you want to learn more about arbitration, start-up culture and a few specific cases where employees were treated unfairly by this system, check out the full article in The New York Times.

Photo: The Manhattan offices of WeWork, one of the highly profitable start-up companies featured in the NYT article. WeWork used arbitration to squash a class-action lawsuit concerning overtime. Photo by Cole Wilson for NYT