This federal appeals judge has hired only male law clerks, with one exception, since 1990, survey finds
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Federal trial-level and appeals judges in Washington, D.C., are required to attend workplace training this month, after a confidential survey revealed allegations of bullying and discrimination by some judges.
The 2021 survey, obtained by the Washington Post, “details instances of gender discrimination, bullying and racial insensitivity, while underscoring the stark power imbalance between judges with life tenure and the assistants who depend on them for career advancement,” the Washington Post reports in an article on the findings.
Many clerks and other staff members responding to the survey said they were reluctant to file formal complaints against judges. They cited fears of retaliation or a feeling that their concerns would not be addressed by fellow judges reviewing their allegations.
Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the survey is part of the court’s effort to maintain a workplace where everyone is treated with respect and dignity. More than 400 current and former court employees took the survey.
Srinivasan did not address survey specifics when contacted by the Washington Post.
The survey cited instances of judges yelling or criticizing work quality to such an extent that employees began to cry. One judge was accused of refusing to talk to a staff member for weeks after the assistant left early for a child care emergency.
And then there was the case of D.C. Circuit Judge Karen L. Henderson, who has hired only one female clerk since 1990, when she was nominated to the appeals court. All the other 70-plus clerks were men.
Henderson responded to the Washington Post in a written statement.
“I give equal treatment and consideration to all applicants and hire law clerks based only on their credentials,” the statement said. “To the extent any contrary impression exists, I regret that such impression exists and I will use my best efforts to address it.”
The court has since implemented a reporting mechanism for Henderson’s hiring decisions, according to U.S. Circuit Judge David S. Tatel, who led a review of her hiring.
Another judge, U.S. Circuit Judge Judge Judith W. Rogers, has had trouble holding on to judicial assistants; three left her chambers in the past three years. They reportedly claimed that they were belittled for failing to meet shifting demands, according to four unidentified people who spoke with the Washington Post.
One of the former employees, Ebony Richardson, resigned and submitted a complaint after Rogers told her that she was being fired, according to the Washington Post.
“I was subject to constant ridicule and verbal abuse. She criticized my weight, my hair and my personal health,” Richardson wrote in her resignation letter. “I have felt bullied, disrespected, defamed, devalued and under constant duress.”
Rogers did not comment when contacted by the Washington Post. Eight of her former law clerks who spoke to the Washington Post said, however, that Rogers was professional and fair.
Rogers can be “very direct and honest” when someone isn’t performing well, said Nita A. Farahany, a professor at the Duke University School of Law, who clerked for Rogers in 2004. But she delivers her criticism “professionally with grace and courtesy,” Farahany said.
The results of the survey were not all bad. More than 90% of the respondents said they had not personally experienced, witnessed or heard about instances of misconduct. And 89% gave the federal and appeals court a positive rating.
Besides requiring workplace training, the court is also hiring an additional workplace relations professional to address problems chronicled in the survey.