The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 2, April 2010

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A Neutral Corner

Education Key to Resolving Problems

By Jocelyn Frazer, Equity Ombudsperson, Law Society of Alberta

My goal as Equity Ombudsperson is to promote equity, equality and diversity in the legal profession.

Educating people working in a legal environment about discrimination and harassment in the workplace is an important step in resolving related problems. Through presentations and workshops to law firms, law students, articling students and students enrolled in legal assistant programs, on issues relating to harassment and discrimination within the legal profession, I identify various situations that can and do develop and offer strategies to deal with those situations along with corresponding information on the legal implications that arise. On an individual basis, I am available to discuss specific concerns on a confidential, neutral basis and to outline available options.

The Office of the Equity Ombudsperson was initially established by the Law Society of Alberta in 1996 as a resource to lawyers and demonstrates a commitment to encouraging equity and diversity in the profession.

The Office serves law firms and individuals working in the legal profession by:

  • establishing model workplace policies regarding harassment, parental leave, and alternative work schedules;
  • providing educational seminars about discrimination and harassment;
  • talking confidentially about particular problems;
  • discussing complaints and addressing issues;
  • developing an understanding of the firm’s obligations, potential liability and options; and
  • finding information on other resources, such as counseling.

Who can access the Equity Ombudsperson?

The Office of the Equity Ombudsperson provides confidential advice, information and assistance to men and women - lawyers, articling students and support staff working in the legal profession on issues of discrimination or harassment by lawyers.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination includes unwelcome comments or actions that relate to an individual’s personal attributes: race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital or family status, physical or mental disability, age, sex or sexual orientation. Discrimination means that a person or group is disadvantaged because of a distinction relating to these personal attributes that limits access to opportunities, benefits or advantages available to others.

What is harassment?

Harassment includes unwelcome comments or actions that might reasonably be expected to cause insecurity, discomfort, offence or humiliation to another person. Harassment applies to a range of behaviour and may include: name calling, insulting or vindictive behaviour, demands for sexual favours, or unjustified criticism.

Is my call to the Equity Ombudsperson confidential?

Yes. The Rules of the Law Society require that the Equity Ombudsperson keep all discussions confidential. All contacts with the ombudsperson's office are confidential whether by telephone, fax or in person. The Equity Ombudsperson operates independently of the regulatory aspect of Law Society of Alberta and reports only anonymous statistical information.

Does a call to the Equity Ombudsperson mean that I have reported this incident to the Law Society of Alberta?

No. The Equity Ombudsperson is exempt from reporting requirements under the Code of Professional Conduct, except with respect to the misappropriation of trust funds.

For more information, or to discuss other issues, please contact Jocelyn Frazer at 403-229-4769 or toll-free 1-888-229-4769.

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