It is, he said, particularly precarious in law firms where
clients - such as churches - are sensitive to such issues or
where powerful associates have strong religious views. Judge
Brownstone made clear he is not against freedom of religion.
Judge Brownstone gave the example of a case where a gay lawyer
in a firm that deals with a construction company was told by a
senior partner that if the client suspected the lawyer they
would be dealing with was gay they would lose the business.
A black judge who also spoke at the conference - Ontario
Superior Court Judge Michael Tulloch - said that outdated
stereotypes of blacks persist in the legal profession. "In their
interactions and experiences at firms and in the profession,
there is not the same level of respect that is given to white
lawyers," he said.
Judge Tulloch said black lawyers at law firms are not
mentored and encouraged the way white lawyers are. This leads to
them being more likely to move to another firm, to be denied
promising work opportunities, or to miss out on judicial
appointments. "It's a continuum," Judge Tulloch said, without
giving specific examples.
Queen's University sociologist Fiona Kay told the conference
that despite the fact that 56 per cent of new lawyers in 2006
were women, female lawyers are very underrepresented at senior
levels of law firms. She said the picture is similarly grim for
visible-minority lawyers, who remain "conspicuously absent from
higher income levels."
Ms. Kay said the most recent survey of lawyers working in
firms showed that 43 per cent of female lawyers were childless;
the product of a culture that implicitly punishes women who go
on maternity leave by sometimes curtailing their job
opportunities and reducing their secretarial help. "Numerous
lawyers commented on the stigma associated with maternity
leaves," she said.