Gender complaints: The best kept secret in the bar association By Bernadette Puzzuole This article is the fourth in a series of articles from the Women in the Law Division. This article highlights one of the most important functions of the Women in the Law Division-the Gender Bias Subcommittee. The Gender Bias Subcommittee of the Women in the Law Division has for years confidentially attempted to resolve complaints brought to it by practitioners and court personnel who believed they had been victims of gender bias. Gender bias may occur in a court, firm, non profit or corporate setting. The party complained of may be a judge, court staff, senior partner, supervisor, coworker or opposing counsel. The work of the Gender Bias Subcommittee is so confidential that many ACBA members do not even know that the subcommittee exists. Moreover, only the subcommittee members and those directly involved with resolving a complaint may ever learn the substance of the complaint, the party against whom the complaint was made and how the complaint was resolved. Contacts for the subcommittee are regularly listed in the ACBA Sidebar, and the names of the members of the subcommittee are also listed at the end of this article. When the subcommittee receives information regarding a situation it believes involves gender bias, it undertakes an investigation. Typically, the information comes in the form of a complaint from an ACBA member, but even nonmembers have made complaints against members and court personnel. The complainant will typically contact a member of the subcommittee to discuss the complaint, although in some situations, a subcommittee member has become aware of a situation and contacted the affected party to see if s/he would like the complaint to be investigated. The subcommittee member will obtain as many details as he or she can from the complainant, and then ask whether the person would like the complaint to be brought to the subcommittee as a whole. Further, the complainant will be asked if s/he wishes to proceed anonymously, or is willing to have her/his identity revealed to the subcommittee. Complainants who are willing to reveal their identities to the subcommittee nevertheless control when and if their identities are revealed to others outside the subcommittee. Complaints can be made without presentation or appearance before the subcommittee. If an individual contacts one of the subcommittee members listed in the Sidebar, s/he may be asked to identify herself or himself to that member. This occurs so that if a follow-up call is required, perhaps because the subcommittee member is unable, due to time constraints, to obtain all the information needed, the member will be able to reconnect with the complainant. Providing a name in this situation does not mean that the complainant will be identified to the subcommittee, or anyone else, for that matter. Rather, it is simply to ensure that appropriate follow-up will occur. If, however, an individual is unwilling to release her/his name to the subcommittee contact person, s/he may simply provide details of the alleged gender bias without any further identification. Because the subcommittee insists on a thorough investigation to ensure that an event or behavior is actually gender bias, when a person insists on complete anonymity, the subcommittee will be limited in the scope of its investigation, and may not be able to resolve a complaint. Typically, the subcommittee as a whole or a small group of subcommittee members will want to meet with the complainant to hear the details and ask relevant questions. This meeting is non-confrontational, and is only intended to help the subcommittee evaluate the complaint. Once the subcommittee has investigated the complaint based on the information provided, including, in some situations, interviewing the person who is the subject of the complaint, the subcommittee will determine what it considers to be appropriate remedies. It will then contact the complainant (provided s/he has revealed her/his identity) to communicate those remedies and seek input. Remedies can be both private and public. For example, if the subcommittee determines that opposing counsel treated the complainant in a manner that constituted gender bias, it may contact the firm in which opposing counsel practices, identify the complaint and person complained of, and ask the firm to provide training to avoid future events that constitute gender bias. If the subcommittee determines that court personnel have treated counsel in a biased manner, a judicial member of the subcommittee may contact those personnel or the judge employing them to discuss the situation and seek to have the person trained to avoid future improper behavior. In the interests of full disclosure, a complainant must realize that even if s/he seeks anonymity, the party found culpable of gender bias may well be able to identify the complainant, because the facts constituting the complaint are so unique that he or she realizes when they occurred and who was present. Additionally, complainants who discuss the situation with nonmembers of the subcommittee may find the facts of the complaint, and their identities, disclosed through no action of the subcommittee. While these situations can occur, they should not deter someone who believes that s/he was the victim of gender bias from coming forward, not only to resolve her/his own complaint, but also to prevent other practitioners from becoming victims of the same behavior. If you believe you have been the victim of gender bias, or if you know of a situation which you believe involves gender bias, please contact a member of the subcommittee. Three of those members are listed weekly in the Sidebar, but you may contact any member. They are: Co-Chair: Honorable Livingstone M. Johnson, 412-350-5266; Co-Chair: Carrie Matesevac Collins, 412-396-4272; Dana Baiocco, 412-394-7229; Ann Begler, 412-391-4000; Kimberly A. Brown, 412-394-2323; James W. Carroll, Jr., 412-338-1117; Honorable Judith L.A. Friedman, 412-350-5147; Jonnie S. Joseph, 412-355-7400; Carol S. Mills McCarthy, 412-471-9900; Honorable John L. Musmanno, 412-880-5800; Rhoda Shear Neft, 412-261-2753; Bernadette L. Puzzuole, 412-338-1129; Susan M. Seitz, 412-544-7882; Regina M. Sestak, 412-393-1546; Honorable Eugene B. Strassburger, III, 412-350-7138; Lyle D. Washowich, 412-288-3208 n Bernadette Puzzuole is a partner at Rothman Gordon in the Real Estate Department.