ABA and BBI study finds prevalent reports of discrimination faced by disabled, LGBTQ+ lawyers

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Date: 
July 14, 2020

Professor Peter Blanck, chairman of the Burton Blatt Institute and lead author of the study, said “the longer-term objective (of the study) is to help measurably enhance the professional lives of lawyers and others in the profession by understanding and mitigating pernicious sources of attitudinal stigma and structural bias.”

Lawyers who either identify as having disabilities or who identify as LGBTQ+ report experiencing both subtle and overt forms of discrimination at their workplaces, with common reports of subtle but unintentional biases. The findings come from a new national study released today by the American Bar Association, in collaboration with the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University.

The groundbreaking study of 3,590 lawyers from every state and the District of Columbia is among the first and largest undertaking of its kind to focus on lawyers who either identify as having disabilities or who identify as LGBTQ+ in their workplaces. Particularly noteworthy, the study examines individuals with multiple identities that intersect, such as people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities who also have disabilities. The study was conducted from 2018 to 2019.

“This study is an important first step in working towards a more inclusive and better legal profession by identifying bias and stigmas against LGBTQ+ lawyers as well as lawyers with disabilities,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said. “The ABA remains committed to its core goal of eliminating bias and enhancing diversity. Discrimination against people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ individuals, whether structural or unintentional, needs to be eradicated.”

Among the key findings of the study are:

  • Prevalence of subtle biases. Almost 4 of 10 (38.5%, 1,076) of all respondents reported perceptions or experiences of subtle but unintentional biases. More than 1 in 5 respondents (21.7%, 607) noted the experience of subtle and intentional biases.
  • Prevalence of mental health conditions. One-quarter (25.0%, 830) of respondents reported a health impairment, condition or disability. Of the 1,374 total responses, almost one-third (30.8%) reported a mental condition, which could include depression, anxiety and cognitive conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and traumatic brain injury.
  • Variations in bias and intersectional identities. Approximately 16.6% of the lawyers responding identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, and 0.4% identified their sexual orientation as open. Of 67 lawyers who were women and identified as LGB with a health condition, slightly more than half (52.2%, 35) reported they had experienced discrimination in their workplaces. Lawyers with a health condition or impairment and who identify as a person with a disability reported experiencing more overt forms of discrimination, such as bullying and harassment, as compared to people who do not have such conditions. Attitudinal biases and structural barriers may be even more challenging for those with multiple identities that intersect.
  • Bias mitigation strategies.When asked to report strategies that were especially effective in lessening either overt or subtle forms of bias or discrimination in their workplaces, fewer than half (46%) reported finding effective strategies. Mentoring within (20.5%, 1,490) and outside (18.4%, 1,335) their organizations was reported as an effective mitigation strategy.
  • Requests for workplace accommodations. More than one-quarter of all respondents (28.4%, 807) reported requesting a workplace accommodation from their organization. Of the 730 respondents who reported a health condition, impairment or disability, fewer than half (42.9%, 313) had requested an accommodation.

Based on the data collected, the study’s authors identified the following key trends requiring additional study:

  • High numbers of respondents reported having experienced both subtle and overt forms of discrimination at their workplaces, with common reports of subtle but unintentional bias among those with disabilities, LGBTQ+, racial and ethnic minorities, and women.
  • Respondents with certain health conditions, impairments or disabilities reported higher levels of overt and obvious forms of discrimination than did individuals without disabilities.
  • Respondents reported relatively high rates of mental health conditions, especially pronounced for women, individuals identifying as LGBTQ+, racial and ethnic minorities, and early-career lawyers.
  • High levels of reported mental health conditions suggest that generalized accommodation and work-family-life programs may benefit a wide swath of the legal profession.
  • Many accommodation requests were fulfilled, with the most common being changes in work tasks, job structure and scheduling.
  • Many respondents requesting accommodations identified as having neither a disability or a health condition or impairment.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at www.americanbar.org/news and on Twitter @ABANews.