Monday, March 26, 2007

I've received a number of e-mails asking for my thoughts on Aaron Charney's sexual orientation discrimination suit against Sullivan & Cromwell, an undistinguished law firm with only seven graduates of Ivy League law schools in their Los Angeles branch office. I've avoided commenting until now, because of the seventy-one sexual harassment suits my firm is currently fighting, but I was just dropped as a defendant in a couple of them (if only there was a surveillance camera in my office, it wouldn't have been so easy), so I figured I could celebrate by sharing my thoughts on the Charney case.

The most comprehensive article on the case is over at New York Magazine, in case you need to get up to speed. But the article I want to focus on first is from the New York Observer, where it's said that Charney "boiled his home computer’s hard drive in hot water, attacked it with a hammer, boiled it again and then discarded the remains."

Kudos to Charney for that, and to the New York Observer for printing it. I've been looking for a new way to destroy associate hard drives (just for fun, in the midst of an important deadline, if I think they haven't been working hard enough) and my usual tactics (coffee spills, electromagnets, termites in the floppy disk slot) have occasionally been thwarted by some unusually resourceful experts in data recovery. But if repeated boiling is the key, then repeated boiling I can do. It's funny I never thought of boiling the hard drives, since I've done away with at least one insubordinate associate through a similar method. Something about how raising the temperature gradually doesn't ever alarm the associate enough to leap out of the pot, and eventually he just succumbs.

But back to Charney's lawsuit. I find myself strangely unmoved. If Sullivan & Cromwell is anything like this firm (and -- only *seven* Ivy League graduates in their Los Angeles office -- I have reason to believe it isn't), it's completely unsurprising that a partner might say something offensive, or that two partners might independently say offensive things, or that the impression might be made that anyone deviating from the norm won't be a good fit at the partnership level. Despite the token attempts to demonstrate otherwise. The thing is, I don't expect it's necessarily got much to do with sexual orientation at all. Charney is just lucky his discrimination involved a protected class. But we discriminate against all sorts of people in the minority. People who have hobbies, people who leave the office, people who care about their families, people who let their guard down, people who cry, people who laugh, people who are friendly, people who have gastrointestinal issues that make their presence known during a long conference call, people with speech impediments, people with integrity, fat people, ugly people, thin people, large-breasted women and men, bald people, bearded people, creative types, immigrants, religious believers, graduates from non-elite schools, those who fail the Bar Exam, vegetarians, loud talkers, and the unfortunately clumsy.

Is it right? No. Is it nice? No. Would it pass muster in a business that doesn't involve $160,000 starting salaries? Of course not. But what do you think the money's for? It's not just for the long hours. It's for the willingness to be subjected to obnoxious partners making inappropriate comments about personal aspects of your life and controlling your destiny at the firm in a manner consistent with their own personal whims and preferences. You drink decaf? Then you're not much of a man, and you're never making partner. And if you don't like it, sue me, but you'll lose, and you'll never get another job again. At least not with a big law firm. Well, maybe a place like Sullivan & Cromwell, looking to boost that pathetic number of Ivy League law school graduates in their Los Angeles office. And please don't leave any comments about the denominator problem. Raw numbers are what counts, not fractions. Fractions are for idiots and anyone who pays attention to fractions isn't making partner. Or if they do, their share is going to be a very, very, very small fraction. If it's fractions you love, you'll just have to deal with the consequences of that.

Perhaps you can tell that I'm conflicted about the case. On the one hand, I can absolutely believe that Charney's complaint is true. On the other hand, if you take away our ability to make rude comments about anything we want, what do we have left? Have some sympathy for the partners here. It's sad how society has lost respect for its elders to such an extent that we're suing them just for being cantakerous and discriminatory. Next thing you know, they'll be making us pay taxes. That'll be the day.

Again, I love your blog. I am even using the archive function, which is something I rarely do. And I must say that this is the only blog that has ever had me laughing loudly at my desk. As you already know, you are a real talent.

Charney can't win. He's got three hostile comments, which do not equate to a hostile work environment. And it seems as though he filed a lawsuit before he had any real injury. Nothing was denied or taken away from him. He just had a bad vibe.
Yes, 'tis true that they have only seven Ivy leaguers, but, in all fairness, you didn't count the handful of attorneys who went to Stanford. MMF.
I quite agree with "amyh"...what's so hostile about a hostile comment? I mean, jeez, it could've been a joke, the partner could've been on LSD and under stress from his 5th divorce...who cares?
As a gay HLS alum, who has a history with Sullivan & Cromwell...this has got to be the most hilarious take on the case that I've read...ever. Well done.
Reading this post reminds me of the infamous "jellybean" episode at Texaco H.Q. a few years back.

As much as people like to think we're an enlightened society, the hard truth is that the higher up you go the more closely you are scrutinized for anything that makes you stand out.

I've seen minority management guilty of doing the same thing, just like the Jenny Craig case in the '90s.

Sometimes I just wish all the whiners in this country would just shut up and go away.
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oh right, people who have hobbies and people who care about their families...totally comparable to a minority social identity. yeah, that makes sense. ::rolls eyes::
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