Monday, October 18, 2010

Should a Legal Staffer Be Required to Wear High Heels?

We've all heard of those law firms, the ones with the dress code prohibiting female employees from wearing slacks. But have you heard of the law firms that require female employees to wear high heels? (I can already see most of the legal support staffers I know rolling on the floor laughing if anyone tried to make them wear heels, but I'll admit I don't know many BigLaw legal professionals.)

Law.com reports that Denise Fitzhenry, a former executive assistant to the chairman of 215-lawyer firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, LLP, has filed suit against the firm in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleging that she was discriminated against after suffering an injury due to wearing required high heels.

According to the complaint, Fitzhenry was employed as an executive assistant to Alan Schwartz in October 2005, and was an exemplary employee. In February 2007, Fitzhenry suffered an injury at work, which required extensive medical treatment, including back surgery.

When Fitzhenry initially returned to work, she requested reasonable accommodations of her disability, including reduced hours, regular breaks, and no lifting of heavy objects. Fitzhenry alleges that Schwartz refused to honor the requests and instead was extremely hostile. She tried to transfer to a different position with the firm, but was told "the only way she could get away from [Schwartz] was to leave the firm." Eventually, she was demoted to the word processing pool, and then terminated after she returned from a subsequent medical leave. Her complaint also alleges the firm violated the FMLA act.

Fitzhenry's attorney claims the firm required secretaries to wear high heels in an atmosphere "more akin to an episode of Mad Men than a modern workplace," and that Fitzhenry's injury was caused by catching one of her high heels in the carpet at work. The State Bar of Michigan Blog rather drolly asks "Does This Suit Against Honigman Have Legs Without High Heels?" Of course, it will be up to the court to determine whether her legal claims have merit, but I'm interested in the assertion that any law firm in this day and age might still require female employees to wear high heels to work.

I have nothing against high heels, but who decides how high? For example, I think a two-inch heel is wicked high, and I can fall off those in a skinny minute. But one of my very fashionable co-workers thinks nothing of running around the courthouse in absolutely fabulous designer three-inch heels. But she also wears super cute flats when she feels like it.

Readers, where do you stand (honestly, no pun intended) on the high heel issue? For or against? Moderate or stilletto? Do you work for a firm that has a Mad Men dress code for women, such as skirts only and pantyhose required at all times?

By the way, my husband and I watched the first three episodes of Mad Men on DVD, but had to give it up, because it was frankly unbelievably depressing and made one want to commit a slow and dreary suicide via heavy midday drinking and chain-smoking.

Source: Law.com

22 comments:

  1. At one of my former employers, one of the paralegals had a unique approach to the ladies in skirts policy. She wore the floral, flouncy skirts with combat boots!

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  2. Lynne, I'm just shaking me head. It would be funny if it weren't so darned sad.

    Wendy Kimbel, ACP, NCCP
    Paralegal Assistance, Inc.
    Mebane, NC

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  3. Seriously? I say we make any attorney who insists on staffers wearing high heels to be required to carry boxes of documents or exhibits while wearing AT LEAST 2" heels, to the courthouse and back. And go through security. And try not to break their ankle or their neck.
    I love my heels, but there's no way I'm going to wear them every single day!

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  4. Really, we still have to deal with this? So sad.

    I personally have no inclination one way or the other, but I do personally hate tennis shoes and flip-flops (god if I could ban those darn things...). I just see nothing even remotely semi business casual professional about either one. Outside of that I just don't care.

    I used to wear heels only to court, but two car accidents in two months meant I now wear flats only.

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  5. I did not realize those places still existed in the 21st Century. If it (in this case, the heel of my shoe) does not affect the work I produce or my professional demeanor, then my office should not mandate it. I know in my current city and firm, the height of a woman's heel does not seem to affect anyone's perception of her as a legal professional. Thank goodness.

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  6. I clerked at a firm that required me to wear a skirted suit at all times, with the exception of "casual Friday" at which time I could wear a Hillary Clinton-esq pant suit. I kid you not. And it was here in Raleigh.... and not at an extremely large firm, either. Delusions of grandeur much?

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  7. I love my high heels, but love my flats too! I would hate to be required to wear heels all the time though. With today's footwear, any professional can find a nice pair of shoes that aren't heels but still look professional.

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  8. MC - Oh, what I'd give for a pic of those combat boots with skirts :)

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  9. Wendy, I have to confess my mouth is still hanging open :P

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  10. Momalegal - It's a plan! I usually save my heels for special occasions that require a pantsuit needing hemming...:D

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  11. Aaren ~ I agree flip-flops should not be worn to work in a legal office. I have a little more flexibility on sneakers, depending on the occasion and their overall appearance. I've had some colleagues who had no choice but to wear athletic shoes, usually for medical reasons. But I do love my flats!

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  12. Mel, I agree that the height of your heel should not dictate your competence and professionalism.

    (Unless you're Snookie...)

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  13. A - I agree that's a harsh dress code - a suit with a skirt at all times! Relax with a pantsuit on Friday! I'd have to say I probably couldn't have afforded to work there...it's hard enough scraping up enough suit combos for long trials. Ugh, and the dry-cleaning bills alone are enough to break the bank :(

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  14. Rachelle, I'm right with you - the height of your heels does not dictate how professional you look, and there are so many terrific - and safe - low-heeled and flat shoes to choose from.

    I'll admit, the older I get, the lower my heels get :P

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  15. The firm should not be able to dictate what I wear on my feet as long as the shoes are professional because my brains are not in my feet. On the other hand, if my feet hurt from wearing heels, that's all I can think about.

    Joan Wiley, ACP
    Las Vegas, NV

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  16. Joan - Great point. With all of the various duties a paralegal is expected to perform, comfort and practicality are key considerations when dressing for work. Having started my career in the 80s, I am so grateful for all the cotton/nylon blends that easily go through the washer and give us breathing room, as well as the great new styles - big fan of draped cardigans - that allow us to look great at work - and still crawl around on the floor and drag boxes of documents around.

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  17. There is plenty of evidence that high heels are not healthy for a woman's body, especially the really high ones. They should think about resulting occupational disease claims down the road. Hey and isn't that discrimination if they don't make the men wear high heels too? LOL!

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  18. U ~ I think if men had to wear high heels even for day, that high heels would be banned from the office forever :P

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  19. I love high heels! Occasionally I go against doctor;s orders and wear a 2 incher.If I were required to wear them, I would have to file a worker's comp claim too!

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  20. Being 5 Foot nothing I wear heels often. However, I think if someone told me I had to wear heels I would do everything in my power to never again wear them.

    Seriously? Places like this still exist?

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  21. Carmen - I, too, have my days when I just feel like wearing a pair of high heels makes me better, or cuter, or something :)

    Ana - I, too, occasionally put on heels just to feel tall - and when I've been too lazy to have my new suit pants hemmed :P

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  22. Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

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