A federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., has hired only male law clerks for the past two decades. Another judge allegedly refused to speak to a staffer for weeks after a child-care emergency caused the employee to leave work early one day. Others are said to have reduced their employees to tears by yelling or making cruel comments about the quality of their work, the Washington Post reports. These and other complaints appear in a confidential workplace survey conducted for the federal trial and appeals courts in the capital, an institution seen as a steppingstone to the Supreme Court. It details instances of gender discrimination, bullying and racial insensitivity, underscoring the power imbalance between judges with life tenure and the assistants who depend on them for career advancement.
Current and former courthouse employees who acknowledged having witnessed misconduct described their reluctance to file formal complaints against their superiors. They cited fears of retaliation and distrust that the judiciary’s system for workplace accountability, which tasks judges with policing one another, ultimately would resolve their concerns. “There is no point to reporting,” said one survey respondent, “because discipline is nonexistent.” Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said, “We aim to maintain a workplace in which we all treat one another, and the members of the public we serve, with respect and dignity.” He added that the employee survey “is an important part of that effort,” but declined to address complaints raised by courthouse staff related to specific personnel matters, citing privacy concerns,