A Dallas-based law firm is being sued for allegedly enforcing a policy that prohibited male and female employees from being alone together — in and outside of the workplace.
Kimberly A. Elkjer, who has been with Scheef & Stone LLP since 2004, according to her LinkedIn account, filed the lawsuit in a Dallas County court.
She says that the firm’s former “no fraternization” policy made her feel “isolated” and that it effectively barred her and her female colleagues from advancement, according to AOL Jobs.
“While the rules are no longer in effect…they created a segregated culture that persists — a culture that denies female attorneys the same opportunities for business and for raises as their male colleagues, and hurts their ability to work,” the report notes, summing up Elkjer’s suit.
“This violates the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act,” the report explains, continuing its summation of the suit, “which prohibits employers from making decisions that harm the ‘terms, conditions, or privileges’ of employees on the basis of gender.”
Elkjer’s attorney Amy Gibson weighs in:
If their concern was harassment or something, you wouldn’t do that to African American employees. “We’re afraid someone will accuse us of racial harassment, so white employees can’t be alone with African American employees.” That’s crazy.
Scheef & Stone responded to the lawsuit by denying Elkjer’s claims, asserting that there is “no evidence” to support her accusations and that none of her female colleagues seem to feel the same way.
“In fact, objective evidence and our business records will clearly show that Ms. Elkjer disagrees with legitimate business decisions,” the statement reads, “based on objective non-discriminatory criteria by the firm’s management that have nothing to do with gender and apply to all attorneys in the firm.”
“We are fully prepared to defend this case,” the statement adds.
AOL Jobs offers a little insight:
Elkjer had raised her grievances with the firm for more than six months, according to her lawsuit, but faced hostility from the powers-that-be. She says that much of culture that she’s describing comes from “the example set by one or more of the firm’s managing equity partners.”
The lawsuit wasn’t specific about the exact wording or rationale of the policy, or the years that it was in effect. Gibson says that she’s concerned about violating the firm’s confidentiality policy, which was brought to her attention — in a manner she found “threatening” — not long before she filed suit.
For years, many employers had no-fraternization policies to deter office romances; in part, there was a fear that dating could lead to sexual harassment.
But some say these no-fraternization policies have worked against women in the workplace.
Elkjer claims in her petition that women in the firm could only advance at Scheef & Stone by “conform[ing] to the firm’s preferred stereotypes” or “accept[ing] the firm’s marginalization of female attorneys.”
“For example, a female attorney who’s pretty no-nonsense, doesn’t take any crap, is negatively viewed as aggressive,” Gibson says, “with the same characteristics that a guy would be praised.”
Elkjer seeks an injunction and compensatory and punitive damages, of $200,000 to $1 million, for gender discrimination, according to Court House News.
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