Women in the legal profession often face discrimination and bias, both implicit and overt. This issue was recently thrust into the spotlight when a pregnant lead attorney in a Florida products liability trial, Christen E. Luikart of Murphy Anderson, requested a trial continuance because her due date coincided with the trial date.
In her motion, Ms. Luikart explained that her doctors had advised her not to travel during the final five weeks of her pregnancy, which coincided with the trial date. Opposing counsel, Paul T. Reid of Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Miami, objected to her request, suggesting that the request was a delay tactic, that she became pregnant to delay litigation, and most egregious of all, comparing pregnancy to an illness. Reid argued that, “cases involving illness of counsel” compel the court to take into consideration the request of the continuance, which he called “extreme” since the request included time before her due date. He suggested that Luikart either try the case early or pass the case on to another attorney at her firm. (Of note, Shook Hardy released a statement saying the firm has suspended Reid pending further review by management and Reid’s bio page had been removed from its website.) Luikart responded in part, “I’m not trying to delay anything. I did not get pregnant in response to his motion to strike.” In response to Reid’s suggestion that she pass the case on to another attorney, Luikart told the court, “The client chose me.” The judge agreed and granted a continuance until January 2019. Judge Cymonie Rowe stated, “I don’t believe Ms. Luikart got pregnant in response to this case. I do believe that Ms. Luikart is entitled to have some time to deliver her child and take care of her child bnt to hamper the progress of the case and that her pregnancy was not an illness, is absurd on its face. However, it is the attempt to minimize Luikart’s role as lead counsel that demonstefore coming back to resume her duties as an attorney.”
The fact that Luikart had to defend her pregnancy and explain both that she did not get pregnarates the more subtle bias faced by female attorneys. Luikart was retained by her client as lead counsel and had done the vast majority of the work on the case in the years that the litigation had been going on. Yet Reid attempted to diminish her role in the litigation by implying that she was replaceable and/or that she was not really the lead counsel.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for women attorneys who have children to find that their careers suffer as a result. Whether it is the broader issue of advancement or a specific case-related issue such as this case, women in the legal profession regularly face discrimination. It is time that the profession stops seeing pregnancy and motherhood as career impediments and starts supporting women, pregnant or otherwise, in the profession that they have earned the right to be a part of.
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To read more about a proposed parental leave rule in Florida, click here.
There are great resources for women trial lawyers, here are just a few: