It’s Officially Unacceptable To Call Women “Honey” Or “Darling” In The Courtroom
No one should be called “honey” by anyone other than a great aunt or grandma. Ever. Especially in a courtroom, where everyone is supposed to be treated like equal human beings. The American Bar Association (ABA) finally banned sexist language in court and deemed it professional misconduct to discriminate against or harass anyone during a case in its new ethics guidelines.
“Harassment includes sexual harassment and derogatory or demeaning verbal or physical conduct,” the attorney handbook says, also defining discrimination as “harmful verbal or physical conduct that manifest bias or prejudice towards others.” That means slimy old (let’s just say it: male) lawyers can’t call female lawyers, plaintiffs, or defendants “honey,” “darling,” or any other gendered term. This was previously only outlawed by 23 states and Washington D.C., and this is the first nationwide rule prohibiting sexist language in the courtroom. It took us until 2016 to get here, but we finally made it.
Of course, there were still some lawyers opposed to the inclusive change who argued that banning offensive language would stomp on their freedom of speech, but luckily no one actually spoke against the new guideline at the ABA’s annual meeting, where it was passed Monday. The National Association of Women Lawyers and other female lawyers were the ones pushing for the ABA to spell out what their male colleagues can and can’t say to them in court.
Along with courtroom interactions, the guidelines also specify that the rule applies to “interacting with witnesses, co-workers, court personnel, lawyers and others,” “managing a law practice or law firm,” and “participating in bar association, business or social activities in connection with the practice of law.” So, lawyers of the male persuasion will have to come up with new names for their secretaries, too — I would like to suggest their actual names, or whatever they prefer to be called.
Despite the national rule, state bar associations will still be in charge of determining what penalties lawyers will face if they break it, which could range from paying a fine to being suspended, depending on how sexist they are in.
However, the guideline still leaves room for attorneys to get by with calling women things other than their actual names by only prohibiting language the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination. So basically, douchebag lawyers can argue they didn’t realize their offensive language was offensive, but hopefully state bar associations will set a wide scope of what they should reasonably know to be inappropriate.