The statistics paint a bleak picture: of the steady stream of complaints against legal professionals, half are related to discrimination and harassment based on sex, and the vast majority are made by women, according to a report by the Law Society of Upper Canada’ Discrimination and Harassment Counsel.
“You hope that kind of behaviour will just cease,” says Cynthia Petersen, discrimination and harassment counsel for the Law Society of Upper Canada and author of its recent report. “When it doesn’t, it’s disheartening.”
In her role, Petersen receives confidential complaints, offers advice and helps mediate resolutions. She sees sexual prejudice everywhere: private practice, government, small and large firms and in all age groups. “There’s a myth that men who graduated 30 years ago are the major perpetrators,” she says. “It’s not true.”
But Petersen thinks things are improving. She says that 10 years ago, firms largely dismissed accusations, and complainants were likely to quit their jobs after being ignored. Today, most firms have harassment and discrimination polices. They investigate complaints and take disciplinary action, which Petersen thinks will deter bad behaviour over time. She’s hopeful that the next 10 years will prove her right.
Photo: flickr via George Socka