Law Firms

Law Firm Accused of Being 'Mad Men' Throwback - Requiring Heels, Then Discriminating After Injury

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A law firm in Detroit created a hostile work environment for secretaries and discriminated against an executive assistant who initially injured her back while wearing required high heels, according to a lawsuit and the lawyer for the plaintiff.

Denise Fitzhenry claims in a suit filed last week that her former firm, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, was slow to accommodate her back injury and then refused to rehire her in May 2010 after a fourth medical leave for the problem, the American Lawyer reports. The suit (PDF posted by the American Lawyer) claims violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act.

The complaint also alleges the firm created a hostile and degrading work environment for secretaries and administrative assistants, 99 percent of whom were female.

Fitzhenry is represented by Deborah Gordon, who told the American Lawyer that the atmosphere at Honigman Miller was more like that of the television show Mad Men than a modern workplace. Honigman “is a very old-school law firm,” Gordon said. “Up until a few years ago they were still using teacups and saucers in a very intentional kind of way.”

Gordon alleges secretaries were required to wear high heels, and Fitzhenry was injured at work when she caught one of her heels in the carpet.

Fitzhenry had worked as an executive assistant for firm vice chair Alan Schwartz, who was the firm’s chairman when Fitzhenry went to work for him in 2005. Gordon told the American Lawyer that Schwartz can be a difficult boss “because of his style and the paces he puts people through.” The suit also names Schwartz as a defendant.

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