I might be laid off. Should I raise concerns about discrimination now, before it happens?

Question: I am a fourth year real estate associate attorney in a 40-attorney firm. Since real estate work has slowed, I made sure to send the partners a memo highlighting my value, such as good relationships with important clients, as well as my willingness to work in other areas of the firm. Hopefully, I won’t be laid off.

If I am laid off, two issues come to mind: first, nepotism. One lawyer in the firm is related to a high-level partner, and though he is obviously not a good attorney, he seems to be immune from fair evaluation or possible layoff.

Second, gender discrimination. It seems hard to deny that female attorneys who are married with kids are always the first laid off, without good reason. Can I point this out without seeming “threatening?”

Altoona, PA

Answer: I think your sending a memo to the partners outlining your value and expressing that you are amenable to doing other work is a smart move.

As to “nepotism,” it is 100% legal and “fair” everywhere. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the law does not, should not, and can not stop people from treating their friends, relatives even lovers better than others who they don’t feel an affinity for. Expressed differently, the law can’t punish love and affection. People are entitled to keep their lazy, stupid, arrogant children in their company, and instead lay off hard-working, smart, good-natured employees. It may be a foolish thing to do, but it is 100% legal.

As to “discrimination,” I am being quite frank with you when I say that I don’t think it is possible to raise this issue in your present circumstances without seeming “threatening,” especially with your bosses, who are lawyers. A certain degree of defensiveness always arises when such issues are raised. I do not recommend raising the issue unless and until you feel you need to, and are prepared to deal with such defensiveness. When the time comes to raise the issue of discrimination, remember to “confront the issue” but do not “confront the people.” That is, don’t call people evil, don’t attack, don’t raise your voice or use angry words.

I think you should have a consultation with an employment attorney who you have heard is not only good in the “legal” sense, but is also equipped with the “common” sense. It would be a good idea to learn your rights under local law, and have an attorney “at the ready” should you be laid off.

Best, Al Sklover

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