Michael Hamar

King & Spalding Breaks Non-Discrimination Pledge with DOMA Case

Filed By Michael Hamar | April 20, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: anti-gay bigotry, boycott of anti-gay companies, DOMA, employee benefits, marriage equality, same-sex couples

Having been in the legal profession for well over 30 years, I am never surprised by the hypocrisy that seems to be the hallmark of many law firms. US-GreatSeal-Obverse_svg.pngThey claim, with wink and a nod and fingers crossed behind their backs, that they don't discriminate against LGBT individuals. Then they do so - often over and over again.

Worse yet, some law firms will claim to have non-discrimination policies that bar anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, promotions, etc., but actually have no such policy, a situation I have addressed on Bilerico.

Even worse yet, other firms demonstrate by the clients that they choose to represent that their claims of non-discrimination are in reality a lie. A case in point: mega-firm King & Spalding, which has signed on to represent Congressional Republicans in the defense of DOMA, a law that as its very essence embodies religion-based anti-gay discrimination.

Here's how King & Spalding's website describes the firm's alleged non-discrimination policy:

King & Spalding is committed to having the brightest and most diverse lawyers it can find, including members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. We work hard to foster and maintain an environment where our lawyers can provide the highest level of legal service while being true to themselves in the process. The firm's non-discrimination policy prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Further, domestic partner benefits are offered for same-sex couples.

Recognitions

Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index Rating of 95 out of 100 (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011

King & Spalding also provides ongoing support for various LGBT-related community organizations.

Unless I'm living in some alternate universe, representing those supporting a total non-recognition of the relationships of same sex couples, denying all spousal benefits, etc., does not strike me as fostering an environment where individuals can be "true to themselves."

Indeed, it's something quite the opposite. No one can force a law firm to represent a given client and typically, no individual partner can commit a firm to a potentially highly controversial case. Thus, I can only believe that high ups at King & Spalding had to have approved this anti-LGBT representation.

On my persoanal blog on Tuesday morning I stated that it seemed to me that HRC needs to immediately change King & Spalding's rating to a zero. It turns out that HRC is going a step better. In a press release HRC has announced a campaign against King & Spalding that includes the following:

Ads in mainstream and legal publications entitled "Shame" that feature the stories of families affected by discriminatory law.

Informational letters to the firm's clients and organizations to which they have made charitable contributions informing them of K&S's decision to promote discrimination.

Informational letters to the nation's top law schools informing them of K&S's decision to promote discrimination.

Organizing law students to convey their feelings to K&S.

Email and Twitter campaign among HRC's members and supporters, more than one million supporters of equal rights.

Reconsideration of the firm's Corporate Equality Index score if its decision to take this case remains unchanged. Presently, the company receives a 95% which it markets quite proudly as part of its diversity story.

As for readers and businesses that believe in full equality for LGBT citizens, I suggest they contact the following folks at King & Spalding: Samuel M Matchett, Diversity Committee Chair -1-404 572 2414 and Caroline A, Abney, Human Resources Manager -1- 404 572 4643. Those who are in a postion to select legal counsel might also want to make it clear that, given King & Spalding's anti-gay representation, that law firm will no longer be in consideration for legal services.

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I applaud the steps being taken by HRC.

People sometimes ask me how I can represent people who I personally believe to be guilty of crimes. Well, I can conceive of cases I would not be comfortable taking, but more importantly, I believe that in the criminal law arena, the right to an attorney and a fair trial are of supreme importance. I know of enough cases in which the prosecutors and law enforcement played fast and loose with the rules that it is not necessarily clear that someone is guilty.

And in most cases where you might be convinced of your client's guilt, the system will work and despite your providing the best defense you can, the defendant will still be convicted.

Defending a law like DOMA is not at all similar. There is no principle to justify standing up and taking the case, no greater good to be served. It is purely taking a high profile case for money.

Something tells me that the half a million were considered more important than the consequences.

And I think that's EXACTLY why they took the case. On the corporate level, money trumps principles every time.

Half a million is actually much less than they usually charge--they could make a lot more money by NOT taking this case, and spending the time on other things. So I don't think money is the only explanation here...

DAF is right. This isn't about the cash (a half a mil is chump change to firms their size). It might be about the phobia, though.

The public line, though, will most likely run towards "even an abysmal law is entitled to a spirited defense."

But I know this about law firms... they are as dedicated to bringing truth and justice into the world as the electric company is to bringing light.

The money that King & Spalding will make in defending DOMA is less than they will lose due to bad publicity. So why do it?

I suspect King & Spalding has a behind the scenes sweetheart deal with some of the Republican powers that be. It would have to involve a significant amount of money or a big favor or more. Perhaps a King & Spalding executive is facing prison time and his/her charges might vanish. Or perhaps King & Spalding stands to make many millions providing legal services to shady organizations sent their way by Republicans.

It could be productive to see what is really motivating King & Spalding.

Is the problem King and Spaulding or the HRC Corporate Index or that they are lawyers or all three combined. A good corporate guide would look into how many Lesbian, gay, bisexual, TS/TG employees they have and what type of medical coverage and other benefits are they provided. A company that claims equality should be held up to its claims. As for the lawyers is anybody but lawyers surprised there are so many jokes about them?

Rick Elliott | April 21, 2011 2:00 AM

Because a law firm acts on a position for clients doesn't mean that the firm agrees with the stance of their client. What they agree to is a vigorous action on behalf of the client regardless of what their personal views might be.

That is true Rick but they are under no obligation to take the case. Will they take the case if it was trying to deny the rights of African Americans or women or even Christians.

This is the same firm that took the Title VII discrimination claim to the supreme court after they wouldn't make a woman a partner. They lost & even the Justice Department opposed them -- under a Republican president too. They have a history of being anti-equality.