My Lawyer Sexually Harassed Me - What Should I do?
Often, clients hold the power in a relationship, such that an employee may be able to hold an employer responsible for failing to properly address sexual harassment by a client. However, in an attorney-client relationship, the attorney usually holds the power. As a client, you are likely to view the attorney as someone who is providing you with an indispensable service. The relationship between an attorney and a client is inherently unequal, with the client being in a vulnerable position. Due to this imbalance, it is rare for a client to be truly a consenting partner in a sexual relationship with an attorney. If you are concerned about a lawyer who sexually harassed you, you should consult an experienced New York City sexual harassment attorney. At Phillips & Associates, we may be able to counsel and represent you.Sexual Harassment by a Lawyer May Violate the New York City Anti- Discrimination Laws
The New York City Human Rights Law provides protection against discrimination for individuals in public places. These places include but are not limited to:
- Retail Stores
- Lawyers, doctors, dental offices and other medical facilities
- Nail Salons and massage therapist’s offices
It is unlawful to discriminate, refuse to provide a service or an accommodation based on a protected class. Protected classes include, Gender as well as Age, Citizenship Status, Color, Disability, Gender Identity, Martial Status, National Origin, Race, Religion, Sexual Orientation and Military Status. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination and can lead to the failure to provide equal enjoyment of a lawyer’s service. If you are sexually harassed by your lawyer you should speak to an employment law firm knowledgeable in the area of discrimination in places of public accommodation.Sexual Harassment by a Lawyer Can Lead to Serious Consequences
In New York, it is misconduct for an attorney to sexually harass a client. Generally, the actions of lawyers are held to a high standard of ethics, and lawyers can be reprimanded, disbarred, or censured for unethical conduct. Under Rule 1.8(j)(1), a lawyer is not supposed to do the following: (1) require or demand sexual relations with anybody as a condition of entering into or continuing professional representation either by the lawyer or the lawyer's firm, (2) use intimidation, undue influence, or coercion to enter into sexual relations incident to professional representation by the lawyer or the firm, or (3) in domestic relations matters, engage in a sexual relationship with a client while representing that client.
For example, if your lawyer says that you need to have sex with him if you want him to continue representing you in a divorce, this would be an incident of all three of these types of misconduct. In a less extreme situation, if a lawyer says that he could do a better job on your case if you would go out with him and keeps emailing you in a sexually suggestive and unprofessional way, this would also be a violation of Rule 1.8(j)(1).
This rule does not apply to a sexual relationship between lawyers and their husbands or wives whom they are representing, nor does it apply to ongoing consensual sexual relationships that started before the lawyer started legally representing the client. Moreover, if a lawyer in a particular firm has sexual relations with a client but does not participate in legally representing that client, the lawyers in the firm will not be disciplined only because of that sexual relationship.
“Sexual relations” include any sexual intercourse, touching the lawyer's intimate parts or the intimate parts of another person in order to obtain sexual arousal or sexual gratification, or sexual abuse. If you are sexually harassed by your lawyer, you should file a complaint with the State Bar for this violation of ethics rules. The State Bar will investigate and may take steps such as reprimanding the lawyer, publicly censuring him or her, suspending his or her license to practice law in the state, or even disbarring the lawyer.
You may also have a basis to sue your lawyer, depending on the nature of the harassment. If your lawyer touched you repeatedly and inappropriately, or if your lawyer assaulted you, this might be a basis to sue the lawyer. There are common law theories under which you may be able to pursue damages. For example, you can file a civil claim for sexual abuse and sexual assault and battery. In some cases, you may also have a claim against the firm where the lawyer is employed. A firm that hires someone with a history of sexually harassing clients may be held liable for negligent hiring or negligent supervision. There may also be vicarious liability for sexual harassment if the lawyer was acting in the scope of employment for the firm at the time.Consult an Experienced Sexual Harassment Attorney in New York City
Our New York City attorneys are sensitive to the painful nature of sexual harassment. We are very familiar with the rules of professional conduct as well as permissible workplace behavior, and we can advise you on your options for legal recourse if you have had to deal with a lawyer sexually harassing you. Call us at (833) 529-3476 or contact us via our online form for a free consultation. We fight sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, as well as in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties and in New Jersey.