Dear Mr. Schaeffer:
I’m a young male associate who’s wondering if I have a legal claim against my law firm. Even though I’m much smarter than most second-year associates, the firm’s female partners all assume I’m a dimwit because of my good looks. Although I do have quite a nice physique (I’m a weightlifter), it’s just not fair that no one gives me credit for my stellar law school record and my high IQ.
My specific problem deals with what happened the other day. The head of the litigation department, who everyone calls “The Barracuda,” dumped four boxes of documents on my desk at 4 p.m. and told me to “have all the privileged stuff flagged by the morning.”
By the morning! She was expecting me to work all night. But it gets worse. Two and a half hours later, she stopped by my office on her way out and asked if I had “time for a drink.” It was clearly a sexual advance. One of the reasons I know was the way she was smiling—it’s the only time the Barracuda has ever smiled at me. On top of that, she seemed to be lewdly moving in a manner that would make her large breasts unmistakable from my angle.
Do I have a claim for sexual harassment? If so, how much do you think it’s worth?
Signed, Feeling Violated in Virginia
Dear Feeling Violated:
As with many correspondents who write for advice, you left out a number of important details. But it doesn’t matter, since I can guess what happened after your boss asked you for a drink. The simple truth is that in your zeal to impress her, you said you were too busy for drinks. That’s what every second-year associate would say. After that, you sat there all night trying to identify privileged documents and wondering how you could escape your miserable job by winning a large verdict for sexual harassment. But it won't work. The reason your bosses assume you're a dimwit is because, well, you are.
I have some other bad news. In your desire to take the easy way out, you haven't been paying attention to the way a large law firm actually operates. First of all, every partner considers it perfectly proper to require young associates to work all night. This is especially true in an emergency situation. You didn’t say whether your assignment arose from an emergency, but let’s give the Barracuda the benefit of the doubt.
Next, after giving you the all-night assignment, the Barracuda felt a little guilty about it. Even though her nickname is derived from a viciously bloodthirsty fish, this doesn’t mean she doesn’t have feelings. Most likely, she regretted that she’d dumped the documents on you without giving you the facts about the case you’d need to identify the ones that were privileged. By failing to supervise you properly, she was placing her clients in a position where they might suffer.
Now do you understand why the Barracuda invited you for drinks? It wasn’t so that she could have sex with you. It was so she could more fully explain the assignment and make certain you got something to eat for dinner. You were wrong to turn her down. Had you gone for drinks with the Barracuda, you would have learned another important lesson about working as an associate at a large firm: namely, that four or five gin and tonics greatly relieve the tedium of document review.
Next time, take the time to think things through.
Your friend, Evan Schaeffer
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