Our Reach: Gender, Racial and Ethnic Equality in the Courts
SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS 02108
March 4, 2004
and equality are bedrock principles of our constitutional democracy. Each of
us must treat others with courtesy, dignity and respect at all times. Behavior
manifesting bias or prejudice based on race, gender, religion, national origin,
ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status is inimical
to our justice system and will not be tolerated in the courthouse.
are pleased to present this booklet, Within Our
Reach: Gender, Racial and Ethnic Equality in the Courts.
It was produced by the Trial Court's Gender Equality Advisory
Board and Racial and Ethnic Access and Fairness Advisory
Board, and updates the Court Conduct Handbook which was
first issued more than a decade ago. Within Our
Reach provides important guidelines concerning
appropriate behavior for those who work in the judicial
branch and for those who use our court system. It is a
useful reminder of our responsibility to treat each other
with dignity and respect, and we urge you to read it.
commend the Gender Equality Advisory Board and the Racial
and Ethnic Access and Fairness Advisory Board for their
work on this booklet and for their continuing efforts to
promote fairness and equality throughout the judicial branch.
Margaret H. Marshall
Supreme Judicial Court
Robert A. Mulligan
Chief Justice for Administration and Management
Trial Court of Massachusetts
people are born free and equal . . .”
These introductory words form the foundation
of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Article I states that "Equality under the law shall not
be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed
or national origin."
The Massachusetts Judiciary has a long tradition
of protecting individual rights. In addition to faithfully
fulfilling the duties of their professions, the judges,
court employees and attorneys in our court system work
hard to eliminate unlawful and unconstitutional bias. They
have pursued this goal for more than a generation, and
most particularly for the fifteen years that the Supreme
Judicial Court and the Administrative Office of the Trial
Court have spearheaded efforts to address gender, racial
and ethnic bias in the courts.
Unfortunately, inappropriate language and behavior
demeaning towards women and individuals of color are still
too common in the courts, as they are in society at large.
Despite improvements, the problem still exists and its import
should not be underestimated or ignored. Although some practices
may not be motivated by bias, they may nonetheless produce
biased results or give the impression of bias, and must be
This booklet offers valuable guidance
for eliminating gender, racial and ethnic bias and
discrimination in the courts of Massachusetts. It
effectuates the court's policy of treating all people
with respect and dignity, and should be a blueprint
for all who work in and are served by the courts.
Further, if we are to preserve the integrity
of our courts we must also work together to eliminate all inequities
within the courts, such as those based on disability,
sexual orientation, religion, age and socioeconomic
status. This booklet is an important step toward that
are the most visible leaders of the court. You are in a
unique position both to prevent and to eliminate biased
behavior in court. You can do this by serving as a model
of respectful and equal treatment of others, by rendering
fair decisions, and by intervening to stop the biased behavior
of others, whether the bias is intentional or unintentional.
COURT EMPLOYEES: In interactions
with the public and colleagues, court employees play a central
role in promoting equality and fairness in the courts. Members
of the public generally have their first and often their
only experience with the court system through an interaction
with an employee outside of the courtroom; for example, at
the clerk's counter or on the telephone. By conveying respect
and providing effective assistance to all, you help the users
of the courts know and feel that they have been treated fairly
and respectfully by the courts. It is equally important to
communicate respect and consideration to your colleagues,
creating a comfortable and welcoming workplace for all.
ATTORNEYS: As officers of
the court, attorneys also play a critical role in maintaining
the dignity and integrity of the judicial system. This
is codified in the Rules of Professional Conduct, which
prohibit lawyers from engaging in conduct manifesting bias
or prejudice when appearing in a professional capacity
before a tribunal (Rule 3.4). However, your contribution
to a respectful and just judicial system extends beyond
your conduct in a case. Fair and equal treatment of employees,
litigants, and others, in and out of the courtroom, as
well as your participation in relevant activities sponsored
by the bar associations, also help to promote a court system
which is fair for all.
MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC: The
courts are your courts. You should expect to be treated
with fairness, respect and courtesy, just as you should
treat everyone else with fairness, respect and courtesy.
Your behavior in court can help to set a tone of respect
throughout the court community.
Bias exists in our society,
and it is sometimes difficult to overcome deeply ingrained
preconceptions. We must make a sincere and honest effort
to recognize unwarranted and impermissible assumptions
and to prevent them from coloring our perceptions of individuals
in the courtroom, our assessments of credibility, our fact
finding, our decision making and our priorities.
The claims of litigants must
be accorded equal respect regardless of the gender, race
or ethnicity of the litigant. For instance, guard against
any tendency to label female liti-gants as more troublesome
or emotional than male litigants, or to regard cases typically
brought by female litigants, such as child support enforcement,
as less important than other cases. Similarly, avoid stereotypes
of male litigants, for example applying different standards
to assess damages for facial scarring of male and female
plaintiffs. Stereotyping litigants from particular racial
or ethnic groups is equally harmful. For example, it would
be inappropriate to think of some groups as having a greater
propensity for criminal activity or violence than other
Courts must take special
care to treat all victims of crime with respect and sensitivity
to the trauma that they have experienced. Victims of
domestic violence and sexual assault must not be subjected
to heightened scrutiny because of the nature of the act(s)
perpetrated against them, or because of their relationship
to the perpetrator. Nor should the race of victims affect
their treatment or the handling and outcome of their
All court employees should be accorded respect
and courtesy. Do not assume that an employee's ability
to assist you or level of authority is related to the employee's
gender, race, or ethnicity.
Good attorneys, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, are zealous
advocates. For instance, do not expect that women or lawyers of particular
ethnicities will be more passive in their advocacy, tolerate more interruption,
or respond differently to reprimands. Recognize and treat all attorneys
with equal attention, respect, and courtesy.
Be alert to ingrained stereotypes of women
and people of color when assessing witnesses. For instance,
do not assume that female witnesses are more likely than
others to be irrational or unduly emotional, then disbelieve
them when their actions are inconsistent with your expectations.
Conversely, do not discredit men who are more emotional
than you might expect men to be. The same holds true for
witnesses of particular racial or ethnic groups who, for
example, may be viewed as less educated or as more likely
to associate with criminals. Credibility should be based
on evaluation of the individual witness, not on stereotypes.
Expert witnesses must be judged on the basis
of their qualifications and not their gender, race or ethnicity.
Be sure that the standards for qualification as experts
1. ADDRESS ALL INDIVIDUALS
BY LAST NAMES AND APPROPRIATE PROFESSIONAL TITLES.
(Unless Miss or Mrs. are requested)
- Dr. or
Officer or Representative/Senator
Using first names and other
informal forms of address can lead to many problems. On
the one hand, when used to address women and individuals
of color, and not male and/or white individuals, such informality
has traditionally suggested a lack of respect. On the other
hand, informal address, particularly when used in familiar
tones and with personal conversation, may suggest an acquaintance
with and partiality in favor of the person addressed. To
avoid differential treatment or the appearance of differential
treatment, address everyone in the same formal, professional
2. AVOID TERMS OF ENDEARMENT
AND DIMINUTIVE TERMS -- THEY DO NOT BELONG IN COURTHOUSE INTERACTIONS.
lady, young lady, young man
kind, you people
Terms of endearment and diminutive
terms should not be applied to anyone in the courts.
These terms can demean or offend, even if the speaker
does not intend to do so. In the past, they have been
used disproportionately to suggest that women or people
of color have lower status or less power.
3. ADDRESS MIXED GROUPS OF WOMEN AND MEN WITH GENDER NEUTRAL OR GENDER
of the jury
Referring to a mixed group
as "brothers" or "gentlemen" implies that women are not
legitimate members of the community who must be taken
seriously. Avoid this or any other conversation that
creates an exclusively masculine atmosphere. All persons
should feel that they have access to the courts and that
they are treated fairly and equally. Exclusionary expressions
or terms that highlight a person's gender undermine that
4. DO NOT COMMENT ON PHYSICAL APPEARANCE.
- body parts
- dress style
- your feelings
about a person's looks
Comments on physical appearance may be demeaning,
putting people at a disadvantage by drawing attention to
their physical traits, gender, race or ethnicity rather
than the reason for their presence in the court. Remarks
appropriate in a social setting often are inappropriate
in a professional setting. For example, complimenting a
female attorney on her appearance or drawing attention
to her pregnancy while she is conducting business may undermine
the way others perceive her.
FROM BEHAVIOR OF A SEXUAL NATURE. IT WILL NOT BE TOLERATED
IN THE COURTS.
Everyone in the courthouse must protect the
dignity and integrity of the court and show respect for
every other person. Sexually-suggestive comments, graphics,
gestures and touching, comments on sexual orientation,
and sexual advances humiliate and intimidate people, and
undermine the dignity of the court. Power imbalances in
the court setting can exacerbate the offense, since individuals
in less powerful positions may feel unable to put a stop
to the behavior. Such acts can also constitute sexual harassment
punishable by law and subject harassers to serious sanctions
pursuant to court policy.
6. AVOID COMMENTS OR BEHAVIOR THAT
CALL INAPPROPRIATE ATTENTION TO ANY INDIVIDUAL'S RACIAL
OR ETHNIC GROUP.
Similarly, jokes, comments, and behavior
based upon race or ethnicity have no place in the courthouse
or the administration of justice. For example, ethnic jokes
and racially-based or ethnically-based name calling, whether
directed at an individual or used to refer to a racial
or ethnic group, can be humiliating and intimidating to
those individuals or the members of those groups. Such
behavior is at best insensitive and, at worst, can constitute
illegal discrimination or harassment.
7. TREAT ALL PROFESSIONALS WITH EQUAL
Surveys have shown that women lawyers and
lawyers of color are asked if they are attorneys significantly
more often than white men are. At the security desk, at
the counter, or in the courtroom, do not ask the professional
status of a woman or person of color when you would not
ask the same question of a white man. All participants
in our legal system must be accorded equal and appropriate
dignity and respect.
This Handbook revises
the Court Conduct Handbook first published by the Supreme
Judicial Court in 1990, and retains many of its original
provisions. The original handbook was based on the findings
of the Gender Bias Study of the Court System of Massachusetts,
and was written under the direction of the Committee for
Gender Equality, chaired by the Honorable Ruth I. Abrams
of the Supreme Judicial Court. The handbook was written by
the Task Force on Court Conduct, chaired by Maria C. Moynihan,
Esq., with the Honorable Barbara A. Dortch-Okara acting as
Advisor. It was completed with the assistance of Gladys Maged,
Executive Director of the Committee for Gender Equality.
The current version also includes new material
based on the findings of the Commission to Study Racial
and Ethnic Bias in the Courts. It was updated to ensure
continued relevancy. It was prepared by the Gender Equality
Advisory Board to the Chief Justice for Administration
and Management under the direction of Vice Chair Timothy
H. Gailey, First Justice of the Chelsea Division of the
District Court Department, and by the Racial and Ethnic
Access and Fairness Advisory Board, under the direction
of member Kay Hodge, Esq.. Former Chief Justice Barbara
A. Dortch-Okara oversaw the revision process, and Lois
Frankel, Coordinator for Gender Issues, provided staff
assistance. Printing was made possible with educational
funds of the Judicial Institute of the Administrative Office
of the Trial Court.