Gay, lesbian lawyers win bar support

Staff Writer

Gay and lesbian attorneys in California have received a commitment from the State Bar to work toward the eradication of sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

The Board of Governors approved a resolution stating its commitment to the issue after it received a report indicating that sexual orientation bias exists in the legal community.

The report was prepared by the board's committee on sexual orientation discrimination, which was formed in 1993. Members of the committee believe the State Bar of California is the first state bar to study and formally express its commitment to supporting equality for gay and lesbian attorneys in the legal profession.

In August, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution aimed at protecting the civil rights of gay and lesbian attorneys in the justice system. The resolution was adopted without debate by the House of Delegates, the 542-member policymaking body of the ABA. It urges state and local bar associations to study the issue and make appropriate recommendations to eliminate bias.

Los Angeles attorney Wayne Braveman, chair of the California bar's sexual orientation discrimination committee, said that his group's report "documents a pattern of pervasive sexual orientation bias in our legal community."

Braveman said the report draws heavily on statistics compiled by the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the Bar Association of San Francisco, both of which have previously issued reports.

"At a minimum, the statistics show there is a serious problem," said Braveman.

The statistics are dry, he said, "but the anecdotal stuff really brings to focus what a real problem we have."

Braveman said many major law firms and employers have adopted the Los Angeles County bar's recommendations to rid the legal community of sexual orientation bias.

Included on the list are Morrison & Foerster; Manatt, Phelps & Phillips; Pillsbury Madison & Sutro; Wells Fargo Bank; Southern California Gas Company; and Disney.

The Los Angeles study reported that once hired, gay lawyers are frequently subjected to a hostile workplace, complete with anti-gay comments and jokes. Comments about ‘faggots' and ‘dykes' and about how gay attorneys spend their time ‘playing with homosexual friends' were documented in the Los Angeles report.

In 1991, the State Bar conducted a random sample survey of 14,300 attorneys which was re-analyzed in 1994, to determine if there were significant differences between gay, lesbian, bisexual and other members of the bar.

According to the bar committee's findings, the results confirmed the belief held by many gay attorneys that they are at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring, evaluation, promotion and compensation.

The report showed that after 10 years in the profession, 26 percent of the gay lawyers were partners in law firms, as opposed to 38 percent of the non-gay lawyers.

For lawyers with less than 10 years, 4 percent of the gay lawyers were partners, compared to 11 percent of the non-gay attorneys.

Thirty percent of the gay lawyers who have been in practice for 10 years or more work in the government or as in-house counsel, compared to 21 percent of the non-gay lawyers.

"As might be expected from the profile of their practice," said the bar committee report, "gay lawyers earn less money than non-gay lawyers."

The study found that after 10 years of practice, 41 percent of non-gay lawyers earn more than $125,000, yet just 27 percent of gay attorneys have a similar income.

The Los Angeles study also determined there was substantial anti-gay bias among colleagues and clients, with about 15 percent of the respondents saying their clients did not want to work with gay lawyers.

Twelve percent said their office partners or supervisors preferred not to work with gay attorneys. More than 8 percent of the attorneys said that their offices denied gay attorneys work simply because they were gay, and more than 11 percent saw or experienced sexual orientation bias in attorney work assignments.

The bar report related that openly gay attorney job applicants and even heterosexual applicants who supported gay causes had a difficult time getting interviews.

As an example, the report tells of an instance involving a heterosexual applicant who spent a summer working at National Gay Rights Advocates. He did not get a single job interview until he removed the reference from his resume.