The chair and managing partner of the world’s second-highest grossing law firm has resigned after admitting to exchanging sexually-explicit text messages with a woman whom he’d never met. Bill Voge, who became chair of Latham & Watkins in 2015 after two prior stints on the firm’s executive committee, first contacted the woman in September 2017 on behalf of the New Canaan Society, a Christian men’s group, and offered to help her engage in a “Christian reconciliation” with a fellow member. The relationship escalated to sexting in November, and while it was initially consensual, the woman said Voge crossed the line when he asked her to come to his hotel room.

A powerful man taking advantage of his position

Law360, which had been investigating the allegations against Voge, and was interviewing his attorney when news of his resignation broke, reports that the woman began telling her story after Voge’s request to meet in person. In emails, texts, and phone calls to Voge’s attorney, assistant, law partners, and even his wife, the woman described how she felt Voge had taken advantage of his position and knowledge of her situation, and shared some of the explicit messages. She reportedly contacted attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis, seeking counsel who would not be intimidated by Voge; one Kirkland attorney reached by Law360 declined comment. The American Lawyer and ABA Journal also have reports.

Voge has fought back, disputing the woman’s account of their relationship, and alleging she has engaged in a smear campaign to publicly humiliate him. His attorney sent a cease and desist letter to the woman in November characterizing her actions as harassment, and described her to Law360 as a “cyberstalker.” However, he declined to go into more detail.

Unprofessional conduct or harassment?

In a statement, Latham said that Voge resigned after voluntarily disclosing his actions to the firm’s executive committee. After noting that Voge’s conduct did not involve the firm, any of its clients or its personnel, the statement acknowledges that “Mr. Voge engaged in subsequent conduct relating to this matter that, while not unlawful, the executive committee concluded was not benefitting the leader of the firm.” According to Law360, the “subsequent conduct” including contacting the woman’s husband, and at least one family friend. While some of the messages reviewed by Law360 are apologetic, others are threatening, with Voge claiming the woman should be in jail, and that she should be made an example of to “help the next victim.”

Voge issued a statement saying he was stepping down “with great sorrow.” He characterized the situation as a “personal mistake,” and acknowledged that his conduct “falls well below the personal and professional standards” he has sought to uphold.

As stories like Voge’s continue to make headlines, we see time and again the importance of harassment victims telling their stories. One of the most vital resources for victims in this sense is their attorney. We can provide confidential counsel to help victims understand their rights, and will not be intimidated by the harasser’s power or status. If you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, do not hesitate to contact an attorney.

An Interview With Author and Filmmaker Raquel Cepeda

Before we can take steps in the U.S. to eliminate sexual harassment, it is important to understand why it’s so common in the first place. To me, the “boys will be boys” attitude begins to set in during childhood and sometimes extends to the courtroom when female attorneys are often second chair to a man despite doing the bulk of the prep work or disrespected by their male peers. The same damaging attitudes can been seen among women too, leading some harassers to exploit a perceived or real lack of gender solidarity. Could the rising awareness of sexual harassment and assault via the #metoo and #timesup movements encourage women and girls to question these types of attitudes toward women and what they’ve learned regarding women’s roles and places in history? I turned to Raquel Cepeda, to talk about these issues and get the viewpoint of someone with experience in cultural detective work. Ms. Cepeda is the author of Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina and a documentary filmmaker, whose film Some Girls (now available at somegirlsdoc.com), follows a group of troubled Latina teens from a Bronx-based suicide prevention program who are transformed by an exploration of their roots.

The connection between women’s self-esteem, toxic masculinity, and sexual harassment

Author and Filmmaker Raquel Cepeda

In Ms. Cepeda’s latest documentary, Some Girls, the teen girls re-learn their history in a way that Ms. Cepeda says gets glossed over in the traditional American education system. I asked Ms. Cepeda about whether she thinks there might be some motivation to find a way to intersect a re-learning of women’s history with #metoo and #timesup. Ms. Cepeda believes that in the future, the #metoo and #timesup movements might intersect with how girls are educated, but for now sees them as “two separate things but equally important parts of the same issue.” The teens in Some Girls learned to see themselves and their bodies “as walking, breathing, living embodiments of history.” She hopes that learning your ancestors’ history, especially the roles of powerful women, will inspire women and girls to treat themselves better, see beauty in themselves, and demand better treatment. Ms. Cepeda says “[s]elf-esteem is connected not just with patriarchy, but also how we as women treat ourselves and each other. And that is connected to not knowing your history.”

Ms. Cepeda agrees that the “boys will be boys” attitude absolutely contributes to the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment of women and girls, partly because “[o]ur world revolves around toxic masculinity.” One of the girls in her film was sexually assaulted and abused at the hands of another student shortly after she attempted suicide. The school’s female principal shrugged off the allegations as “boys will be boys.” Ms. Cepeda says the principal’s response highlights the “misogyny within our own gender.”

So you see this woman who should have been protecting the young lady who was sexually assaulted tell the mother ‘you’re just spoiling her,’ ‘she needs to toughen up’ and ‘boys will be boys.’”

Ms. Cepeda further explains that “sexual assault is something that kids don’t even see as predatory. They just see it as part of their culture because they learn it at home. And when confronted with these issues in their own lives and those of their elders, it’s too often met with indifference.” Ms. Cepeda believes that part of the solution is for men and boys “to listen to the girls around you and listen to the young women around you. If something makes [the girls] feel uncomfortable, you have to respect that and listen. Become an active part of the solution” Ms. Cepeda believes that it’s time to get organizations like A Call to Men more involved to “work to re-educate young men to give men the tools that they need to be an active participant and to protect and honor the women around them.”

Going forward, Ms. Cepeda believes men need to be included in the #metoo and #timesup conversations. “They need to talk about what it is about society and the male gender that makes them stay quiet and think that it’s good enough to not step up. You can’t be indifferent to these things just because you happen to be a nice guy.”

In Ms. Cepeda’s experience, male allies in the workplace can make all the difference. As the Editor-in-Chief at Russell Simmons’ Oneworld Magazine, working in the hip-hop community meant dealing with misogyny. While Ms. Cepeda is tough, she felt lucky to have an ally in her publisher, John Pasmore. “Just listening to the frustrations that my staff, both male and female, were dealing with and being an ally helped me feel like I could take chances and do what I had to do. He went through a lot of stuff to keep the tone that way. I was lucky.”

How can cultural attitudes impact a sexual harassment case?

Ms. Cepeda’s analysis pins down the positions and viewpoints that many harassers, attorneys, and jurors may hold subconsciously and impact how a sexual harassment case is litigated. Many victims are hesitant to speak up about sexual harassment because they fear being blamed by both men and women. The #metoo and #timesup movements, however, have revealed that sexual harassment is more pervasive than many of us believed and the tide is shifting so that victims are more readily believed. If you have experienced sexual harassment at work, your attorney can be your strongest ally. Your conversations with your attorney are confidential. As always, it is important to consult an attorney about your legal rights if you have experienced sexual harassment at work.

Some Girls follows a group of troubled Latina teens from a Bronx-based suicide prevention program who are transformed by an exploration of their roots, is now available to buy or rent at somegirlsdoc.com

It has been over a month since Sports Illustrated broke the story of the history of sexual harassment within the Dallas Mavericks’ organization. Since then, the team has hired outside counsel to investigate its culture, and brought in a new CEO who has committed to changing that culture going forward. Now, a new report from Deadspin, based on interviews with former and current employees, shows the important role that workplace culture plays in enabling sexual harassment.

A Real Life Animal House

The stories in the SI report are sadly predictable: the now-former President and CEO of the team once openly suggested that a female subordinate was going to be gang-banged over the weekend, and openly propositioned women for sex; at least one employee was warned, “don’t get trapped in an elevator with him.” A male employee in ticket sales was known for watching pornography at his desk. And in one instance, an employee allegedly dropped a used condom outside an office bathroom, which the head of human resources picked up with a paper towel. SI quotes one employee describing the office as a “real life Animal House.”

Deadspin’s interviews shed light on how this culture persisted for so long: employees were under constant pressure to perform, and there was a feeling that management was either unwilling or unable to do anything about the culture. One former employee described the job as

like being married to a Hollywood star, knowing he was abusive emotionally and physically to you, but you stayed with him because he’s a star.”

In the case of the porn-watching employee, Deadspin reports that employees felt they had no choice but to ignore it because the employee had a long tenure with the team, was known for bringing in a log of money, and, perhaps most importantly, was seen as close with the powerful people above him, who were known for caring only about how many tickets their employees sold. Reports of sexualized comments were dismissed as “talking shop.” And in perhaps the most widely-discussed revelation, the team allowed an accused-domestic abuser to remain with the team, even after he was arrested for alleged abuse of one woman, and was widely suspected of abusing a coworker whom he was dating.

When the Office Culture Protects the Harassers

Above all, the team’s handling of the abuse and harassment allegations sent a message to female employees that they were “just there to protect the men.” Sexual harassment persisted while male employees were given multiple chances. And the physical environment didn’t help. Many employees worked in a completely-open office space, meaning that everyone knew when someone was screamed at, belittled, or harassed. One employee stated that she was initially shocked by the abuse, but felt like she had to look the other way to keep her job.

As the #metoo and #timesup culture movement continues to evolve, it is stories like this that will help us understand how we got here, and how we can improve. In the case of the Mavs, the office culture played a critical role in enabling sexual harassment. Management looked the other way, or even participated in the harassment, intimidating victims and would-be whistleblowers alike into silence. It is in such a situation that an attorney can be a vital resource to a victim or whistleblower. We owe our clients a duty of confidentiality, and can also provide an objective analysis of the situation and possible remedies. If you have been a victim of or witness to sexual harassment in the workplace, don’t hesitate to reach out, especially when the office’s culture would encourage you to remain silent.