Workplace Conduct

The courts have a special responsibility to make sure that discrimination and harassment based on race or gender are never tolerated. In 1981, the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) called for equal opportunities for women and minorities to work in the courts. In 1988 CCJ urged each state to establish a task force addressing gender and racial bias in the courts. Many state court systems did develop these task forces in the 80s and 90s.  Some of these task forces have remained active while others have become part of a court access to justice committee or task force. In 2018 CCJ approved a resolution on workplace harassment. CCJ Resolution 2 In Support of Commitment to Awareness and Training on Workplace Harassment in the Judicial Branch encourages the judicial branch of each state to develop procedures and provide training on workplace harassment. Finally, Resolution 2 asks the National Center for State Courts to create a repository of resources that address workplace harassment. This guide serves as the repository for resources to assist the state courts in developing or updating training, policies, and procedures. 

What's included in this resource center?

Both the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the American Bar Association (ABA) approved resolutions on workplace harassment in 2018. The ABA resolution focuses on the enforcement of policies on harassment and retaliation by legal employers while the CCJ resolution encourages the judicial branch of each state to develop procedures and provide training on workplace harassment. 

CCJ Resolution 2 points out that every state has a judicial disciplinary commission that holds judges accountable and that judicial codes of conduct require judges to be free of bias and prejudice. Further they are barred from engaging in harassment or permitting court staff or court users to engage in this type of behavior. 

The ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct (MRPC) 8.4(g) defines harassment or discrimination as professional misconduct. This Rule was added to the MRPC in 2016.

Court Staff Training
Developing a culture that is responsive to workplace misconduct is an ongoing process. It requires much more than a one-time training from HR. Workplace conduct policies must be up to date and reviewed regularly. Familiarity with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines which define sexual harassment and impose an affirmative duty on employers is crucial. A confidential reporting procedure is critical in encouraging individuals to come forward without fear of retaliation as the consensus is that sexual harassment is underreported. Accountability from all levels of the court system must be clear as well as which policies and procedures apply to whom. Finally, a thorough investigation with accountability as appropriate must follow each and every complaint to support a culture that is free of workplace misconduct. 

State Policies
State courts are looking at their workplace harassment policies and training curricula and updating them if necessary. States handle this in different ways.  In many states the code of judicial conduct applies to judges while a different policy applies to other court employees. The following chart shows how states handle development of workplace harassment policies in the courts.


Federal Task Force
The Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group was formed in January 2018 to review the protections in place for employees dealing with inappropriate workplace conduct. The Working Group reviewed the Select Task Force of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Study of Harassment in the Workplace in 2016 (EEOC Study). In addition, the Working Group received input from a variety of individuals and groups including current and former law clerks and court employees.