Transgender lawyer sues for declaration that bias based on gender identity violates attorney ethics rules

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Transgender lawyer Sheryl Ring has filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration that attorney ethics rules in Illinois do not allow discrimination based on gender identity.

Ring contends the ban on sex discrimination in Illinois ethics rules should encompass a ban on discrimination due to gender identity, gender expression, nonbinary status and transgender status, Law360 reports. She sued the administrator of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission in an Oct. 4 complaint filed in Cook County, Illinois. CBS 2 Chicago also has coverage.

Ring, a lawyer in McHenry, Illinois, cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2020 decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, which held the ban on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender workers.

Before the Supreme Court ruled, Ring sent a March 2019 letter to the IARDC that asked the commission to educate lawyers and judges regarding gender identity. The letter reported several instances of discrimination.

The commission’s only response was to state that discrimination on the basis of gender identity doesn’t violate Illinois ethics rules, Ring’s suit says.

Most other states, including Pennsylvania and California, already ban discrimination by lawyers on the basis of gender identity and expression, according to the suit.

Ring says she faces daily discrimination from lawyers and judges because of her gender identity. Alleged discrimination includes:

• The court clerk of Winnebago County refused to use Ring’s legal name and female pronouns when referring to her—until she filed suit.

• A retired judge who is a mediator interrupted a mediation to ask Ring whether she had surgically transitioned.

• A Cook County mandatory arbitration panel ruled Ring couldn’t represent a client because she is a transgender person and incapable of being an attorney.

• One lawyer asks Ring, “What gender are you today?” whenever they attend a hearing together.

• Several lawyers refer to Ring as “it.”

• At multiple firms, every lawyer purposefully misgenders Ring in court, even after being corrected.

• Lawyers share “before” and “after” pictures of Ring, including offering them to the court.

“I have been misgendered or called slurs from the bench,” Ring told CBS. “I have had judges who simply call me sir.” Yet there are no ramifications, she said.

Ring has also created a petition asking the IARDC “to join states like California, Pennsylvania, Washington, Maryland, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Florida [and] Oklahoma and the District of Columbia, and ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in the Illinois legal system.”

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