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Confidential Work Survey of Washington D.C. Courts Reveals Potential Discrimination Issues

The Federal Judicial Center (the judiciary’s research agency) surveyed the federal district court and appellate court in Washington D.C. Many members of this region end up on the U.S. Supreme Court. Over 400 current or recent court employees participated, with 90% saying that they had not experienced, witnessed, or heard about any incidents of wrongful conduct.

The survey includes 57 reports from employees saying they had experienced problematic behavior, and 134 individuals reported witnessing misconduct or hearing about it. For example, D.C. Circuit Judge Karen L. Henderson has hired almost exclusively men as law clerks. Of the 70 clerks she has hired since 1990, only one clerk was female, even though women have outnumbered men in law school since around 2016. Henderson says she gives “equal treatment and consideration to all applicants and hires law clerks based only on their credentials.” She regrets if a “contrary impression” exists. The court opened a review into her hiring practices and reached a resolution that includes a “reporting mechanism for all hiring decisions.”

The survey reveals that court employees dealt with bullying, retaliation, race, or gender discrimination. Three judicial assistants have left D.C. Circuit Judge Judith Rogers. Anonymous court employees told the Washington Post that Judge Rogers belittled and chastised them for not meeting her “shifting demands.” One former assistant wrote a resignation letter stating that the judge subjected her to “constant ridicule and verbal abuse;” the judge criticized her weight, hair, and personal health. The court transferred this employee to the library, but she could not secure a new position. The survey included other complaints about judges, including one judge who allegedly refused to speak to a staffer for weeks after a child-care issue caused the assistant to leave work early. Employees participating in the survey expressed concern that nothing would change because judges do not want to police each other.