Pennsylvania Bar Association Pledges Continued Support for Professional Rule Prohibiting Knowing Harassment and Discrimination

Contact: Kate Sherman and Jeff Gingerich, Pennsylvania Bar Association Communications, 800-932-0311, [email protected]

Pennsylvania Bar Association Pledges Continued Support for Professional Rule Prohibiting Knowing Harassment and Discrimination

HARRISBURG (March 28, 2022) – Pennsylvania Bar Association President Kathleen D. Wilkinson has issued the following statement in response to a U.S. District Court ruling that blocks implementation of amended Rule 8.4(g) in the Rules of Professional Conduct for Pennsylvania lawyers:

“The Pennsylvania Bar Association is disappointed that the U.S. District Court has blocked implementation of the provision in the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibiting a practicing lawyer from knowingly engaging in conduct that constitutes harassment or discrimination based on race, sex, gender identity or expression, religion, national origin, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, marital status or socioeconomic status.

“We reiterate our support for this additional provision because everyone participating in our justice system should do so without being the target of intentional harassment or discrimination based on their sex, race or other characteristics.

“The amended rule approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was a narrower variation of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct that had been amended to eliminate language the district court had criticized in a previous ruling issued in December 2020.

“It included helpful commentary explaining that the rule addresses conduct in the practice of law, including interaction with witnesses, coworkers, court personnel, lawyers or others, as well as participation on judicial boards, continuing legal education seminars, and bench bar conferences. The terms ‘harassment’ and ‘discrimination’ were defined in the comments, along with a limitation excluding application of the rule in certain circumstances that might present First Amendment concerns.

“The PBA and other bars have consistently supported efforts by the Disciplinary Board to amend the misconduct rule to prohibit serious acts of bias, prejudice, harassment and discrimination in the practice of law.

“In 2016, the PBA House of Delegates expressed support for the adoption of a prohibition of knowing harassment and discrimination in the practice of law, in a recommendation cosponsored by the PBA’s Commission on Women in the Profession and the Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee, among other committees and sections.

 “In June of 2020, the Supreme Court adopted a version of Rule 8.4(g) that was later challenged in federal court, resulting in a December 2020 ruling enjoining the enforcement of the rule when it was slated to go into effect.

“The Disciplinary Board appealed that ruling, and in March of 2021, withdrew that appeal with the intention to propose an amended rule taking the district court’s ruling into account. In the meantime, several other states have moved forward with anti-discrimination rules.

“Last July, the PBA commended the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for acting properly and deliberately in amending the existing misconduct rule as to provide a meaningful disciplinary avenue for misconduct that should no longer be tolerated in the practice of law.

“In light of the U.S. District Court’s ruling, the PBA again offers its strong encouragement of the Supreme Court, as well as its offer to assist the Court, in its pursuit of measures to make it clear that knowing harassment and discrimination by lawyers will not be tolerated.”

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access of legal services; and serve the lawyer members of the state’s largest organized bar association.

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Source: Pennsylvania Bar Association, 100 South Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101