The federal judiciary routinely hears (and often dismisses) lawsuits filed by workers who have suffered soul crushing disrespect, humiliation and abuse from an employer.
This is one reason why the recommendations of The Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Group matter.
The group this week re-committed to the promotion of an “exemplary workplace” for the 30,000 employees of the federal court system “through engaged leadership and more expansive education in the areas of civility, respect and communication.”
Historically, federal judges have graduated from elite colleges and law schools to high-paid jobs in private law firms representing employers to the bench. There, they are exempt from federal discrimination laws. And they have lifetime tenure and can’t be forced to retire.
The federal judiciary’s workplace was the antithesis of democratic. Federal judges were the equivalent of kings in their chambers, and many young law clerks were treated more like serfs than workers.
After several high profile cases where staff complained of sexual harassment and workplace bullying by federal judges, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in 2018 appointed the workplace conduct group to improve the environment in which federal employees work.
If federal judges must treat their workers with dignity and respect, perhaps they will expect this of other employers?
The judiciary has already adopted a raft of changes recommended by the working group, including the establishment of a national Office of Judicial Integrity, training programs for judges and court staff and employee focus groups.
The group also has adopted a standard designed to protect staff from “abusive conduct,” which is defined as “a pattern of demonstrably egregious and hostile conduct not based on a Protected Category that unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work and creates an abusive working environment.”
In its new 32-page report, the working group states that earlier efforts are “proving effective” and enhance the chances of “early reporting, meaningful interventions, and long term prevention of abusive conduct. Judiciary employees now have access to direct assistance, clear and immediate recourse, and effective remedies.”
Here are some of the group’s new recommendations:
- An in-depth nationwide climate survey of judiciary employees at regular intervals.
- Require complaints to be reviewed by judges outside the court where the complaint originates;
- Additional monetary penalties comparable to those available to other federal employees.
- Data collection with respect to complaints resolved by “Informal Advice.”
- Develop a policy governing romantic relationships between employees with supervisors.
When all is said and done, however, one important thing hasn’t changed.
Federal judges are still technically exempt from obeying civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, color and national origin.