An Ohio law firm came under fire this week after it put on a display of how new parents are too often treated when they dare to take parental leave. A text from a senior attorney at Zashin and Rich, a Cleveland employment law firm, abusing a former associate at the firm for having gone to another job soon after returning from maternity leave, went viral—and the guy who sent the text is now also no longer with Zashin and Rich.
“I had suspicions you were interviewing two months ago and I told Stephen then to ask you about it. I also told him to cut you loose at that time if confirmed. He was too nice of a guy to do so,” Jon Dileno texted the unnamed associate. “What you did—collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your ass, except to find time to interview for another job—says everything one needs to know about your character. Karma’s a bitch. Rest assured regarding anyone who inquires, they will hear the truth from me about what a soul-less and morally bankrupt person you are.”
“Soul-less and morally bankrupt”—for leaving one job for another after maternity leave. Here’s the thing (aside from a level of personal abuse it’s hard to imagine Dileno would have directed at a man): Many employers don’t offer parental leave, but those that do often require a year or more on the job before the benefit becomes available. So if someone wants to leave their job but is pregnant and wants to get the leave they have already qualified for by working at their current job for a year or more, they’re pretty much stuck. That associate might have been wanting to leave Zashin and Rich for months before her leave even started.
Parental leave is a benefit people earn. It’s not cause for indentured servitude when you return from it. And it is decidedly not “sitting on your ass.” All of this coming from a more senior attorney at the employer suggests reasons that the associate might have wanted to leave to begin with. Zashin and Rich isn’t a huge firm, but it’s not tiny, either. It has 30 attorneys currently listed on its website, so for one person to leave to spur such possessive outrage suggests a toxic culture.
As Dileno’s text to the associate started spreading through legal social media, with a LinkedIn post drawing more than 13,000 reactions, Zashin and Rich tried to do some damage control with a statement that didn’t really help.
“Recently, I became aware of an inappropriate and unprofessional text that was sent by an employee at our firm to a former employee,” firm partner Stephen Zashin wrote. “That single text was sent in the heat of the moment by an employee upset by the belief that the former colleague while on paid leave sought employment with another law firm. Within days of her return to work, she took that new job. That’s not an excuse for the offending text, which should not have been sent. That single text has prompted some to question our commitment to fair treatment, diversity and other values that our firm holds dear and believes in fervently.”
Zashin went on to defend his firm’s “record of how we treat our employees” and its commitment to working parents, saying “the firm is taking corrective action” as a result of the Dileno text, and “taking a purposeful look at our culture and what may need to change.” Conspicuously absent as a thing that may need to change at the time of the statement was Dileno’s continuing employment with the firm, although it didn’t take too long after that attempt at damage control for Zashin and Rich to decide he had to go. They tried, people jeered at the repeated mentions of a “single text” and the language that implicitly agreed with Dileno’s logic, they moved on.
Dileno’s text struck a chord with many readers, especially women, because the underlying idea—that women should be more grateful for getting basic benefits like leave after having a new baby—is so common, if not usually put in writing in that kind of language and tone. (By an employment attorney, no less!) And this is what it looks like to be one of the privileged minority of workers who have access to paid family leave: just 23% in March 2021. Meanwhile, paid parental leave is standard in most other countries. It’s just one more area of basic workers’ rights on which the U.S. lags.
Happy New Year! Daily Kos’ Joan McCarter is on the show today to talk about the wild garbage fire that was the Republican speaker of the House vote. Kerry and Markos also break down what this onionskin-thin conservative majority can and cannot do in the coming year, as well as what the Democratic representatives can do to make Kevin McCarthy’s life just that much tougher.