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Federal court system adopts new sexual harrassment rules

When allegations of sexual harassment were leveled against a California federal appeals judge by 15 women in December 2017, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts responded by appointing a working group to investigate abusive, unwelcome or offensive sexual conduct in the federal court system. That group submitted its report in June 2018, and its recommendations have since been endorsed by Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts. The group concluded that sexual harassment was widespread in district and circuit courts and often went unreported due to fears of retaliation.

The working group's report prompted calls for change, and the Judicial Conference of the United States responded to these calls on March 12 by announcing revised rules designed to protect workers against sexual harassment and encourage federal court system employees to step forward when they witness behavior that could create a hostile work environment. The rules were announced by Merrick Garland, who is the most senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and a former Supreme Court nominee. Chief Justice John Roberts has backed the new rules.

When drafting the revised workplace conduct rules, the working group paid particular attention to the plight of law clerks. Law clerks are often women in their 20s who are drawn to the work because it offers the possibility of mentorship from some of the legal profession's most senior figures. Several of the California appeals judge's accusers were law clerks.

Attorneys with experience in workplace harassment and discrimination cases may advise workers who have been subjected to unwelcome sexual advances or exposed to toxic work environments to gather as much evidence as possible before making a complaint or initiating legal action. Such evidence could include a detailed account of incidents of unwelcome behavior along with the names of any other individuals present, copies of lewd correspondence or photographs of inappropriate workplace decor.

Source: USA Today, Sexual misconduct the aim of crackdown by the federal courts, Richard Wolf, March 12, 2019

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