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June 10, 2020

PA Supreme Court Adopts Rule to Prohibit Bias, Discrimination, Harassment

In a major step forward, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has amended Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct to identify bias, discrimination and harassment in the practice of law as professional misconduct. New Rule 8.4(g) reads as follows:

"It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

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(g) in the practice of law, by words or conduct, knowingly manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment or discrimination, as those terms are defined in applicable federal, state or local statutes or ordinances, including but not limited to bias, prejudice, harassment or discrimination based upon race, sex, gender identity or expression, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, or socioeconomic status. This paragraph does not limit the ability of a lawyer to accept, decline or withdraw from a representation in accordance with Rule 1.16. This paragraph does not preclude advice or advocacy consistent with these Rules"

The Supreme Court also added the following Comments to Rule 8.4:

"[3] For the purposes of paragraph (g), conduct in the practice of law includes participation in activities that are required for a lawyer to practice law, including but not limited to continuing legal education seminars, bench bar conferences and bar association activities where legal education credits are offered.

[4] The substantive law of antidiscrimination and anti-harassment statutes and case law guide application of paragraph (g) and clarify the scope of the prohibited conduct."

With the addition of Rule 8.4(g), Pennsylvania joins the majority of states in prohibiting such conduct in the practice of law. The Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, the Philadelphia Bar Association and other bar associations in the state have campaigned for several years to add an anti-discrimination provision to the Rules of Professional Conduct.

"The Philadelphia Bar Association is steadfastly committed to the achievement of diversity and inclusion in the profession," said Association Chancellor Hon. A. Michael Snyder (ret.) "We applaud the Supreme Court for adopting a rule designed to eliminate bias, discrimination and harassment in the legal community and in professional interactions with the public."

The Supreme Court issued the Order amending the Rules of Professional Conduct on June 8 and the new rule becomes effective in six months. See the full text of the Order and Rule 8.4(g) here.

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