Legal Industry Leads in Transgender Policies for Employees

Photographer: Josh Edelson/Bloomberg
By Gayle Cinquegrani, Bloomberg BNA

When Baker McKenzie recently announced it had adopted guidelines for addressing the needs of its transgender and gender nonconforming employees, it joined a growing group of law firms with formal policies for transgender employees.

Law firms are often among the highest-rated workplaces for LGBT equality, according to the Human Rights Campaign. HRC publishes a national benchmarking survey called the “Corporate Equality Index.” “Of all the industries represented, law firms have the highest number of top-rated businesses,” Deena Fidas, HRC’s workplace equality program director, told Bloomberg BNA. HRC is a nonprofit that promotes equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Baker McKenzie wants “to be proactive” in making sure it is “an inclusive workplace for all,” Anna Brown, the firm’s North America diversity and inclusion director, told Bloomberg BNA. “Our goal is to have an inclusive workplace where each person can bring their authentic self and perform at their highest level.”

In formulating its guidelines, Baker McKenzie consulted resources provided by the Human Rights Campaign and the Transgender Law Center, Brown said. The firm’s transgender guidelines — which address the use of appropriate pronouns, restroom access, and health insurance coverage — explain how managers and employees can support gender transition in the workplace.

 

More LGBT Lawyers

The number of LGBT lawyers has been increasing, according to the National Association for Law Placement. NALP’s “2016 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms” showed the percentage of lawyers who are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender was 2.5 percent in 2016, up from 2.3 percent in 2015. This figure has more than doubled since 2002, when it was less than 1 percent, NALP said.

The percentage of LGBT lawyers is highest at large law firms, according to the NALP report. Firms with more than 700 lawyers reported 3.8 percent openly LGBT associates and 2.2 percent openly LGBT partners, compared with only 1.9 percent among partners in all law firms.

The percentage of LGBT lawyers is likely to increase, especially at large law firms, because the number of LGBT law students working there has increased. “There is still potential for some growth in the presence of LGBT associates,” NALP said. It found that 4.9 percent of summer associates were LGBT in 2016, compared with 4.4 percent in 2015. In firms with more than 700 lawyers, the number of LGBT summer associates exceeded 5 percent during the past three years. “Lesbian, gay, and bisexual graduates going into private practice are more likely to take a job in a firm of 251+ lawyers than were graduates as a whole,” the report said.

Labor and employment law firms probably adopted transgender policies sooner than many others because firm leaders tend to be familiar with the issues from their legal practice. “The lawyers at the firm are better attuned to this than lawyers at a general practice firm might be,” Littler Mendelson shareholder Mark Phillis told Bloomberg BNA. Phillis co-chairs the firm’s diversity and inclusion council.

 

Littler Has Longstanding Policy

Phillis said Littler’s policy was already in place when he arrived in 2001, which means it predates HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, which debuted in 2002. As a labor and employment law firm, “when we’re talking to clients about having this type of policy, it’s a much easier argument to make if we ourselves have such a policy,” he said. It also makes sense to have a policy, Phillis said. “It’s better to ensure your employees have the tools they need rather than scrambling when this issue arises.”

“When we say we don’t discriminate on gender identity or expression, we mean it,” Phillis said. In the policy, “we make clear to employees that we will assist them if they are transitioning.” Littler’s policy contains guidelines for managers and employees on various issues, including changing employee names on business cards and professional licenses, using appropriate pronouns to describe transitioning employees, appearance codes, restroom usage, and medical coverage and leave policies.

Law firms that don’t specialize in employment law also have been recognized for their progressive transgender policies. One such firm is Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, a Washington-based intellectual property firm that earned a 100 percent rating on HRC’s scorecard during the last rating period. Finnegan’s nondiscrimination policy explicitly “covers gender identity and expression” by employees, although it doesn’t cover the use of pronouns or bathroom usage, Tim Henderson, Finnegan’s chief recruitment and professional development officer, told Bloomberg BNA. The firm’s health insurance plan covers gender reassignment surgery, he said.

O’Melveny & Myers is another law firm that achieved a perfect score from HRC. The firm established a formal gender transition policy in 2011, Julie Fei, the firm’s global communications manager, told Bloomberg BNA in an email. O’Melveny’s policy “identifies ways in which individuals undergoing gender transition may notify the firm of their intentions and needs, describes applicable leave and health benefits, and addresses topics such as pronoun and name changes, dress and appearance, and access to gender-segregated facilities,” she said.

 

Coverage for Gender Reassignment Surgery

Several law firms have health plans that provide coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

O’Melveny “includes gender identity and gender expression as protected characteristics in our equal employment policies,” Fei said. The firm’s medical plan provides coverage for gender reassignment surgery and other related medical benefits such as medications and counseling.

Baker Donelson, which also earned a top score in HRC’s 2017 Corporate Equality Index, “addresses the protection and rights of transgender employees through many of its general employee policies, including our Equal Employment Opportunity Policy and Anti-Harassment Policy,” Johanna L. Burkett, Baker Donelson’s public relations manager, told Bloomberg BNA in an email.

“Baker Donelson also offers transgender-inclusive health care benefits, including a medical plan that provides coverage for gender reassignment surgery,” Burkett said.

The Paul Hastings law firm has “received a 100 percent ranking on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index since 2008,” firm spokeswoman Arielle Lapiano told Bloomberg BNA in an email. She said Paul Hastings produced its transgender transition guidelines in 2016 and emailed them to all employees and posted them on the firm’s internal diversity and benefits portals.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in Washington, D.C. at gcinquegrani@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com.