Michael Hamar

Continued Homophobia in the Legal Profession

Filed By Michael Hamar | December 16, 2009 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
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ENDA appears to be going nowhere this year and as a result LGBT employees in a majority of states - including ever backwards Virginia - will continue to have no employment non-discrimination protections. That includes LGBT attorneys and paralegals who either cannot get hired by law firms in the first place or who must live in fear in the professional closet so as to not be fired from their jobs.

the-rotunda.jpgWhile this post will focus on Virginia, the problem identified occurs all over the country where states do not protect LGBT citizens from employment discrimination. As I have noted before, I was forced from a large law local firm in 2004 because I was gay - true, they tried to dress it up as something else, but one did not need to be a NASA scientist to know what was going on - and I have a good friend who experienced a similar fate when his sexual orientation was discovered at another prominent local law firm.

The major disconnect in this wide spread picture is that most prominent law schools require interviewing employers as a condition to recruiting on campus to abide by employment non-discrimination policies that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In Virginia, the leading law schools, The University of Virginia School of Law (my alma mater), The College of William & Mary School of Law, The Washington & Lee University School of Law, and The University of Richmond School of Law all have such policies (click on the school to view its respective policy). Research has shown that Virginia's mega law firms - Williams Mullen, P.C., McGuire Woods, L.L.P., and Hunton & Williams - actually have such policies in place at their firms, as does Leclair Ryan. Yet, the majority of Virginia law firms that conduct on campus interviews do NOT actually have official non-discrimintation policies that comply with the law school mandated non-discrimination policies. In fact, two local law firms - Wolcott Rivers Gates and Willcox & Savage, P.C. - have fired LGBT staff due to their sexual orientation.

Of the other locally based law firms, one - Kaufman & Canoles, P.C. - has a nondiscrimination policy that on its face excludes sexual orientation. The rest as well as some in other parts of Virginia have no discernible non-discrimination policy whatsoever: Vandeventer Black, L.L.P., Watt Tieder Hoffar & Fitzgerald LLP, Taylor & Walker, P.C., Christian & Barton, P.C., Hirschler Fleischer, P.C., and Huff, Poole & Mahoney, P.C (Taliban Bob McDonnell's former firm).

Obviously, something is seriously wrong with this picture if these firms are allowed to recruit on campus at leading laws apparently giving a wink and a nod to the law schools' non-discrimination policies. As a result, I sent the following letter to the deans of four of Virginia's top law schools asking how and why this situation exists in light of their law school's respective non-discrimination policies:


VIA E-MAIL AND U. S. MAIL

Paul G. Mahoney, Dean - pmahoney@virginia.edu
University of Virginia School of Law
580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, Virginia 22903-1738

Davison M. Douglas, Dean - dmdoug@wm.edu
William and Mary School of Law
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, Virginia 23187-8795

Rodney A. Smolla, Dean - smollar@wlu.edu
Washington and Lee University
School of Law
Sydney Lewis Hall
Lexington, Virginia 24450

John G. Douglass, Dean - jdougla2@richmond.edu
University of Richmond School of Law
28 Westhampton Way
University of Richmond, Virginia 23173

Re: Employer Recruiting Non-Discrimination Policy

Gentlemen:

To introduce myself, I am an attorney (UVA Law 1977) admitted to the Virginia, Alabama, and Texas bars. To my knowledge, I am one of only two (2) publicly and professionally "out" LGBT attorneys in the Hampton Roads area - a region with a population of approximately 1.5 million residents. I am also a contributor to LGBT/political blogs. Because of my extensive involvement in the Hampton Roads LGBT community, I believe I can safely say that none of the large local law firms have any "out" attorneys. A few have LGBT attorneys who live in the closet if you will and live in fear of being fired should their sexual orientation become known.

As the Employment Nondiscrimination Act ("ENDA") continues to languish in the U.S. Congress, LGBT Virginians continue to have no legal employment protections against being terminated from employment or not hired in the first place due to their sexual orientation. This situation is not unique to Virginia and holds true in many other states. Each of your law schools have put in place policies that require recruiting law firms and corporations to agree to adhere to a non-discrimination policy that bars employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. For this I and others in the LGBT community applaud your institutions.

Unfortunately, there is a major disconnect it seems when it comes to law firms actually adhering to the non-discrimination policies required by your institutions. Research has shown that while Virginia's mega law firms - Williams Mullen, P.C., McGuire Woods, L.L.P., and Hunton & Williams - actually have such policies in place at their firms, the majority of law firms do not. Instead, they either have a policy that does not include sexual orientation - e.g., Kaufman & Canoles, P.C. - or have no stated policy that I can identify: Willcox & Savage, P.C., Vandeventer Black, L.L.P., Watt Tieder Hoffar & Fitzgerald LLP, Wolcott Rivers Gates, P.C., Taylor & Walker, P.C., Christian & Barton, P.C., Hirschler Fleischer, P.C., and Huff, Poole & Mahoney, P.C. To make matters worse, two of the named firms - Willcox & Savage, P.C and Wolcott Rivers Gates, P.C - have in the past forced LGBT individuals from those firms because of their sexual orientation.

I am writing you for two reasons. First, I would like your reactions to the manner in which the majority of Virginia's law firms seem to fail to follow through on their supposed agreement to abide by your institutions' nondiscrimination policies. Second, I would like your thoughts on what your institutions can do to actually enforce your respective policies. For example, should law firms be required to have formal non-discrimination policies in place in order to interview on campus? Will there be real consequences for firms that fire attorneys and staff based on sexual orientation?

I plan on doing a story on this issue that will be both published on some blogs as well as circulated to other writers at news outlets, bloggers and activists. I look forward to your responses. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Sincerely,


If and when I receive responses from these law schools I will post one or more updates. Meanwhile, I would encourage others to contact other prominent law schools and ask how/why they allow homophobic law firms to recruit on campus notwithstanding the law school's employment non-discrimination policies for would be employers.


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