By Andrea Ventura
Judge Paul Singh Grewal took the fight for women's equality into his own hands this month, an action that needs replication to level the legal playing field. He not only acknowledged that an off-the-cuff sexist remark by a male attorney in a deposition was biased towards a female attorney but also sanctioned the male attorney for making it because it "tarnishes the image of the entire legal profession and disgraces our system of justice," as stated in his January 12, 2016 order.
As a Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court, Northern District of California, Judge Grewal granted plaintiffs' motion to compel based on violations of discovery rules as well as the Northern District Guidelines for Professional Conduct. Among the violations Judge Grewal cited was a comment made by defendants' attorney Peter Bertling. When plaintiffs' counsel asked Bertling to stop interrupting her line of questioning, Bertling told her "[D]on't raise your voice at me. It's not becoming of a women or an attorney acting professionally under the rules of professional responsibility." (Italics added.)
Judge Grewal did not brush this sexist remark off, as many men (and women) have done in the past. Instead, he found: "A sexist remark is not just a professional discourtesy, although that in itself is regrettable and all too common. The bigger issue is that comments like Bertling's reflect and reinforce the male-dominated attitude of our profession." To help stop this male-dominated attitude, Judge Grewal ordered Bertling to donate $250 to Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles Foundation on top of ordering Bertling's client to pay attorneys' fees and costs for two depositions.
Unfortunately, comments like Bertling's sexist remark are made all the time. And, despite achieving key status in a law firm, non-profit organization, or corporation, many women lawyers do not challenge these biased remarks because they want to prevent any potential retaliation, job opportunity loss, and lack of current and future business. Their official silence is not just because they are scared of being perceived as whiners, as has been reported.
So, thank you, Judge Grewal for not only hearing - but also heeding - our call. This official judicial action will help curtail sexism in the legal profession in California and, hopefully, spread throughout the nation. Our country is institutionally sexist just as it is institutionally racist. As Judge Grewal noted: "A recent ABA report found that 'inappropriate or stereotypical comments' towards women attorneys are among the more overt signifiers of the discrimination, both stated and implicit, that contributes to their underrepresentation in the legal field."
The National Conference of Women's Bar Associations and CWL echo this sentiment. To encourage more men to take the fight for equality into their own hands just as Judge Grewal did, they are hosting a program entitled "Why GOOD Guys - Guys Overcoming Obstacles to Diversity -Are So Important" on February 5, 2016, in San Diego. See: http://ncwba.org/programs/aba-midyear-meeting-program-february-5-2016-why-good-guys-guys-overcoming-obstacles-to-diversity-are-so-important/
Hopefully, this program and Judge Grewal's exquisitely pointed decision will encourage many more men to fight for the equality of the sexes. It is sorely needed to help even the playing field.