#Me, Too

Yes, it happens even to tough women lawyers

Geraldine Ly
2018 March

#Me, too. The room was filled with my colleagues attending a legal networking event, mostly male attorneys who were my acquaintances and friends. One male colleague gave me a hug, and his hand mysteriously and subtly traveled down my back to feel what type of undergarment I was wearing. I stiffened, pushed him away, and walked toward a female friend letting her know what just happened.

Her response, “That’s just Louie for ya. He’s a pig. He’s done that to me and has asked me to spend the night at a hotel with him following his deposition.” (All real names are withheld.)  I did nothing else; neither did my friend. I said nothing to anyone else; neither did my friend. Who could we tell? What would come of my reporting the inappropriate behavior? After all, this attorney is part of the good-ole-boys network, self-professed legend but nonetheless respected by the legal community. So, I tolerated the groping, swallowed my silent scream from the offensive touching, and have avoided him at all other events. #Me, too.

#Me, too. During a black-tie charitable event with attorneys, judges, and others in the legal community, a male colleague approached me, escorted me away from the auction item I was bidding on with his arm wrapped tightly around my waist, leaning his head close to mine, and whispering in my ear, “When are you going to divorce your husband so that you and I could steal away together?” He was and is married. I did not know what to do or say other than, “When last I checked, I’m still happily married.” This was not the first time this man had approached me with opportunities (invitations?) to elope into the sunset with him. This was not the second either. This was the fourth or fifth. The advances had been so numerous that two of my male friends knew to rescue me when they saw the perpetrator cornering me. Again, who would I report this inappropriate behavior to? Would I then be the pariah in the legal community? I could not afford being banished. I needed the support and camaraderie of my peers for my career. I said nothing to anyone except to my close friends who rescued me. #Me, too.

#Me, too. Recently at another black-tie event that my husband and I attended, a very inebriated attorney gave me my third hug of the evening (in front of my husband). His hand lingered on my bare back, and he then attempted to caress the small of my back while leaning in and asking if I was going to the after-party with him. I pulled away immediately, grabbed my husband, and left the event before a situation was to escalate.

The perpetrator was clearly too drunk to realize what he was doing (or was he?). As an aside, he is also married – not that this behavior should be tolerated by a single man but seems to be more repulsive when the offender is married. This was not the first time he has approached me in a seedy way. I was not his only victim. When I told my girlfriend, she informed that she too had been a victim of his molestation, and she too walked away without saying anything. She and I both said almost simultaneously, “There’s nothing we can do. [George] is a drunkass and a pig.” He continues to be a notorious molester. Even my male friends have witnessed his inappropriate behavior.  #Me, too.

I can list at least 15 other instances committed by judges, attorneys, and other professionals during my 23-year career that are similar to those above. I am sure I speak of experiences that are shared by all of my female colleagues. We are in a profession that is still dominated by men. We are practicing with some men who believe this behavior is acceptable.

Until the recent months, crossing the line of decency was accepted but not acceptable. Until recent months, the behavior was minimized, referred to as piggish. It was swept under the rug and tolerated. In reality, this behavior was and is criminal, as nonconsensual touching.

The legal industry is no different from the entertainment industry nor from the gymnastics arena where the illegal acts were committed by Dr. Larry Nassar. He violated hundreds of victims that no one believed. The onus was then on the victims to decide whether and by what means they wanted to expose the creep. Their voices were heard loudly and clearly by the entire nation. They bravely brought awareness to the inappropriate acts perpetrated by a man.

Women should feel comfortable reporting the type of behavior that I have had to quietly endure in the past 23 years. Men should no longer accept this behavior from their male colleagues. No one should put up with unwanted advances, inappropriate touching, molestation, threats, or ultimatums in order to play in the same legal sand box as an equal. Legal organizations must develop a code of conduct and the corresponding ramifications for violating that conduct. I am also encouraging that hotlines within these organizations be established so that inappropriate behavior can be reported and actions be taken. Your voice should be heard, must be heard.

Please attend CAOC’s Justice Day on April 23, 2018, and stand up to fight for yourself or for someone you know who has silently endured this or similar behavior. Advocate change for the generations that follow. This type of behavior is no longer acceptable and will no longer be tolerated. #Me, too!

Geraldine Ly Geraldine Ly

Geraldine Ly, the new president of OCTLA, practices at the Law Offices of Geraldine Ly in Santa Ana.  Her practice emphasizes workers’ compensation and personal injury law. She frequently handles cases that have an overlap between workers’ comp and personal injury law.

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