Lawyers Who Use Terms ‘Honey’ And ‘Sweetie,’ Among Others, Will Now Be Fined Or Suspended

Although the terms “honey” and “sweetie” may be endearing in specific contexts, they have not been appreciated in the courtroom, and a law now bars women to be referred to in such terms.

A specific case involving an exchange between Lori Rifkin and fellow attorney Peter Bertling resulted in the latter being charged $250. Bertling responded to Rifkin after she requested that he stop interrupting her by stating, “Don’t raise your voice at me. It’s not becoming of a woman.”

Woman’s Day shares that the the judge said Bertling’s comments “endorsed the stereotype that women are subject to a different standard of behavior than their fellow attorneys.”

Rifkin relayed that she was “well accustomed” to such remarks in the courtroom.

“People make comments every day on everything, from what women lawyers are wearing or whether they are smiling or can take a joke.”

This is clearly not an isolated incident of the sort, either. The publication shares that earlier this year, 5,200 women making up the National Association of Women Lawyers, petitioned to have the American Bar Association professional code of conduct amended for the purpose of prohibiting lawyers from using not only discriminatory language, but also harassing terms while practicing the profession.

Women who signed the petition claim that they are regularly made to feel demeaned and “undermined” while in the courtroom and at trials, with such terms as “honey,” “darling,” and “sweetie” to name a few.

An additional example of negative treatment towards women in the field of law, came from Leslie Richards-Yellen, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers. She described the ill-treatment toward a young African-American associate at a firm where she had practiced earlier in her career.

“The opposing counsel called her a racially insulting name, trying to throw sand in her face and get her off balance. She called me trying to decide whether she should fight back or stay calm and just complete the job for the client — which is what she decided to do.”

As expected there were also critics against the movement to see the law amended, mainly due to a worry that the new rule would keep lawyers from being able to speak freely on behalf of clients in addition to circumscribing the way practices are run.

Kim Colby, who is the director of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society, opposed the amendment, stating “It would change the attorney-client relationship and impair the ability to zealously represent clients.” The New York Times shared more on Colby’s argument.

“Such a change would also have a chilling effect on the ability of lawyers to engage in free speech, religious exercise and other First Amendment rights.”

On Monday, the Association voted in favor of the said amendment, which means that lawyers now can be fined for calling women terms such as those which were mentioned.

Woman’s Day shares about rules which have already been in place in 23 states that are similar to the newly instated law. Yet this change has a nationwide impact.

“… this ban establishes a nationwide standard that will apply to all 400,000 members of the bar. Penalties, which could range from fines to suspension from practice, depending on the offense, will be determined by state bar associations. “

The lawyer who fined Bertling after his sexist comments directed at his fellow lawyer shared about the need for such a law to be in place.

“A sexist remark is not just a professional discourtesy, although that in itself is regrettable and all too common. The bigger issue is that comments like Bertling’s reflect and reinforce the male-dominated attitude of our profession.”

[Photo by Tracy Bennett/Getty Images MGM Pictures]