An attorney who suggested that his female colleague was going through menopause was ordered last week by a federal judge to pay the colleague $1,000.
The lawyer, Camilo Salas, made the comment during a deposition in which Dora Monserrate-Peñagarícano, his opposing counsel, complained that the room was hot. In response, Salas said, in front of 14 attorneys, "you're still hot? You’re not getting menopause, I hope."
Salas said that he was concerned about Monserrate-Peñagarícano's "medical condition," adding: "A hot room is a trigger for hot flashes in women who are going through menopause." The theory did not sway District Judge Francisco Besosa, who found that Salas had committed professional misconduct. The judge ordered him to pay $1,000 in attorneys fees to Monserrate-Peñagarícano and to take a legal education course on professionalism.
“The comment was made to embarrass Ms. Monserrate,” concluded Besosa. He noted that menopause “implicates issues relating to a woman’s age, fertility, psychological state, sexuality, and physical condition.”
If he had been truly concerned for Monserrate-Peñagarícano, Besosa wrote, Salas would have asked her in private whether she was feeling unwell. Salas’s display “tarnishes the image of the entire legal profession and disgraces our system of justice,” Besosa wrote.
Salas is one in series of male attorneys who have gotten in trouble for saying generally gross things to women they work with. In considering how he should punish Salas, Besosa reviewed some highlights in on-the-record sexism. In 1999, a lawyer called a female attorney "babe," which he said was better than calling her "bimbo." As recently as 2007, a judge ordered that a male attorney be supervised during depositions after he told a female lawyer that she had a “cute little thing going on” and asked why she wasn't wearing her wedding ring.
“Discriminatory comments like this undoubtedly occur on a daily basis in the legal profession and are routinely swept under the rug,” wrote Besosa.
The frequency of such comments may be keeping women out of the courtroom. An American Bar Association study (PDF) published this year found that female trial lawyers contend with "inappropriate or stereotypical comments" from judges and fellow attorneys and that they have reported "being patronized and called 'honey' or 'dear' or referred to by their first name in the courtroom." Such hostility, concluded two trial lawyers who authored the study, may well keep women from arguing cases in lead roles, if at all. Women represented just 27 percent of trial lawyers arguing civil cases—and 21 percent in criminal cases—in a sample of more than 600 cases in 2013, the authors found.