A Judge and Jury of Our Peers

            I make my living pursuing claims of discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environments on behalf of my clients. The Connecticut General Assembly and our courts have acted aggressively to stamp out discrimination and hostility in the workplace and to limit the effects of this type of behavior that can have generational impacts.
            Folks like me and those who defend the cases on behalf of the accused take our jobs seriously. We play an important role in making sure the laws are enforced, and justice is served fairly and equitably.
            It is really important that we have faith in our justice system so it can do the work of ensuring our American values, codified in our statutes and laws, are enforced equitably.
            And if we have faith in our justice system, then that should be enough to ensure that when a person acts in violation of the law, the system will act to correct the violation.
            But these days it seems like we have a belief that justice served by our court system is not sufficient to satisfy our need to right the various wrongs that come before the court.
            I am not an apologist for harassers or discriminators. Their behavior has social consequences that go beyond the actors and their victims. It erodes our society as a whole. Whatever must be done through our system of laws to stop the behavior is fine with me.
            But it is the judicial system and the legislature that have been empowered by us to take action. People who freely give their opinions on Twitter do not speak for all of us. Talking heads on the news channels don’t get to mete out justice. Still, they increasingly are the most listened-to voices, and the penalties that are assessed exceed those that our system of justice could ever reasonably hand out.
            In fact, the penalties are frequently so swift and unforgiving that the matters never even make it into court. After the public issues its verdict without hearing all the evidence, the cases, if they are ever even brought into court, quickly settle.
            I was reading the obituary of a man named Chuck Close last week. I’m embarrassed to say that I had never heard of him before. He was a brilliant portrait painter. In 1988 he was left partially paralyzed, but he continued to paint some of his best works well into this century.
            Four years ago, several women, including many who had posed for him as models, accused the artist of sexually harassing them between 2005 and 2013. He acknowledged making crude and candid commentary to the women as he evaluated them as subjects.
            Don’t misunderstand: I am not making excuses for the man. If he harassed the women, he should have been sued, and, if liable, he should have paid damages.
            But no lawsuits came. Instead, just a number of allegations were made. And a neurologist attributed the artist’s comments to a diagnosis of dementia that the artist had received.
            However, once the allegations were made, galleries that were scheduled to show Mr. Close’s art cancelled or postponed his shows. But what was the correlation? Why should the world be deprived of his priceless art because of allegations, that even if true, could be properly handled through the court system. Should the bad behavior have completely nullified his artistic accomplishments? And should the behavior have deprived the public of viewing the artwork of one of the great portrait artists in a generation?
            I’m not so sure. I prefer to let the courts decide these issues and issue the appropriate penalties.

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