Coffee Talk: What is the most shocking gender bias comment you have heard?

The father of my son’s classmate was complaining to me and other parents about jury duty, and I mentioned the legal implications of ignoring a jury summons. “Ahhh,” he said with a knowing look, “Your husband must be a lawyer.”

Lauren Dodge

I will never forget when my very conservative mother from Montgomery, Alabama, told me, “Don’t go to law school. You will wind up a poor old maid with no husband.” She had never met a woman lawyer, so I have to forgive her for that comment. My response: “I won’t be poor!” Sometimes we have to believe in ourselves, even when no one else believes in us. Especially when no one else does.

Carol M. Langford

“Oh honey, you can’t know how to install a toilet.” From a retired judge and mediator.


I showed up to a law office for a deposition in a multiparty case. The deponent, plaintiff in the matter and his attorney showed up just after me. They were talking free trash about the deposition and the case. I just sat there quietly, as I often do, and when the host attorney came out and greeted me, as counsel for a party, the plaintiff’s attorney turned red in the face and stammered to me, “Oh … I thought you were the court reporter.”

Karen Juster Hecht

As for most of my professional career, I worked long hours even though I was a single mother balancing the needs of my young daughter with those of my law firm (where I was the first woman lawyer to come to work). My daughter often called me in the late evening hours asking if I was ever coming home from San Francisco. On those few nights when I did leave the office with the men—at a “reasonable hour,” I would soon hear complaints about divided loyalties. I wore the uniform of that era—business suits with Brooks Brothers button-down shirts, a bow tie and comfortable business heels (as advised by my law school mentor). One day, I was called into a senior partner’s office and told to close the door. He said, “You are scaring the young men because of the way you dress. Further, you might as well slow down because you will not be promoted over any of them—they have families to support.”


My college professor who was the head of the department in which I majored, said to me, “Why are you wasting my time taking my course? You know that you are only going to get married and have children.”

Bonnie L. Johnson

About 35 years ago, a Contra Costa Superior Court judge, in ruling against opposing counsel, said from the bench that she needed to go get a lawyer. I did not have a high opinion of opposing counsel’s legal ability but I was shocked to hear that comment coming from the bench.


In 2005, a judge in Yolo County talked to a group of law students and family law attorneys and said that he had to give men a bump up in their testimony, because women always came across better than men. We were shocked (and displeased, since our clients were mostly women).

Corrine Bielejeski, Esq.

Comment made by one of the male senior partners in my first firm (there were no female associates or partners) after having generated more than required billable hours for a bonus: “Why should we pay you any more when your wife makes so much money?” She is a physician and we’re still married after 40 years!


I was in a large meeting of lawyers and clients on a big commercial lease deal when I was a first- or second-year associate. I was the only woman in the room, by far the most junior, and easily 20 years younger than anyone else. Toward the end of the day, when we’d been negotiating for hours, the question of whether to continue or break for dinner arose. Some people wanted to break, saying it would help them resume afterward. Others wanted to push on, saying that the incentive of finally getting to leave for dinner would help us get through the remaining issues faster. In response to this latter argument, one of the older men among my client’s group stood up and said (perhaps jokingly), “We must break for dinner—this young lady here might be with child!” I’m rarely speechless, but all I could think to say was “I must need to go on a diet!” It was shocking, not to mention seriously mortifying, to have my gender highlighted in this way.

Star Lightner

During law school (1970s), a small firm told me that they didn’t like to hire male clerks, because female clerks were more reliable. This was a firm in which all partners considered themselves positively cutting edge, and the wife of one of them (later a judge) was a prominent local feminist. Too bad for them; they missed out on some great guys.

Edward T. Perry

At the beginning of a civil litigation case (in Texas) the judge asked me “Why aren’t you home, little lady, making dinner for your husband?” I smiled sweetly and replied that my husband was a chef and didn’t need help. Luckily the case settled.

Diane Michelsen

As a mid-level attorney representing the State of California Judicial Branch in a mediation, I was admonished to “Pipe down, little mouse,”—by the mediator no less—when I requested that opposing counsel not persistently interrupt my opening statement.

Lucia Kanter St. Amour

Back in the 1980s, I was a young attorney interviewing for a job at the Alameda County Superior Court as a Research Attorney, and one of the judges, mind you, asked me if I had ever been married.

Bonnie C. Maly

Recently, an opposing counsel instructed me to type a settlement agreement with the comment “I know you can type.” I had just met opposing counsel the afternoon of our settlement discussion. We had never met before.


Heard this now anachronistic phrase over 40 years ago in college: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

Dan G. Ryan, Esq.

The most shocking gender bias remark that I have ever heard was directed at me on the first day that I ever appeared in court, Contra Costa Superior Court, Probate.  It was 1989. I was appearing on a Petition for Probate to get the Order and Letters. As I approached the bench on behalf of Petitioner, in my blue suit, white shirt and bow tie, the judge asked, “Are you an attorney?”

Bonnie K. Bishop

As a female associate, I interacted regularly with a client for over a year when our firm defended two different cases against his business, including spending a full day together in mediation. Many months after both cases settled, he returned to our office to drop something off, spotted me to say hello, and asked if I was “still the front desk secretary.” Ouch.


When defendant walked out of a deposition and refused to appear for my re-noticed deposition, I brought a motion to compel. Among several other belittling comments, defense counsel said to me, “I don’t know why you are creating all this drama.” That’s something my 10-year-old daughter says to her girlfriends—not something you say to a professional. But my story has a happy ending—I beat him at trial!

Josette D. Johnson, Esq.

I was having a discussion with opposing counsel outside a courtroom, and he asked me if I was “on the rag” (meaning my period).


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