Employees are dressing more casually for work these days, and it can be uncomfortable for supervisors to publicly criticize it -- particularly when those workers are women, and the supervisor is a man. That's been the case for one Tennessee judge, who sparked a controversy by writing a memo urging female attorneys to keep their clothing court-appropriate.
Although the media reported on anonymous sources who claimed to have seen a female lawyer in flip-flops and another in sweatpants, the judge didn't make such claims. In the notice, Circuit Judge Royce Taylor in Murfreesboro, Tenn., explained that "the subject of attorneys' dress" had popped up at the recent Bench/Bar Committee meeting. He wrote:
"The unanimous opinion was that the women attorneys were not being held to the same standard as the men. It was requested that the judges require all attorneys to dress professionally."
" I have advised some women attorneys that a jacket with sleeves below the elbow is appropriate or a professional dress equivalent."
The Rutherford County Bar newsletter hasn't yet published the memo, but it hasn't stopped Taylor's words from creating a buzz in town, even sparking false rumors that the judge was going to start making women wear pantyhose. Nashville-based attorney Karla Miller, who does some work in Rutherford, told USA Today that she was "slightly offended," by the judge's action, but admitted that "some ladies are dressing in a manner that should be bothersome to other lady lawyers who strive to be professional."
While the issue has been brewing for years, Taylor, who's been a judge since 1998, told AOL Jobs that he'd been reluctant to approach it. "Being an older white male judge I realized I'm at a disadvantage to try to talk about this subject. I'm certainly not a fashion guru," he explained.
Taylor wasn't surprised by the reaction, at all. "I think our role as judges is to promote professionalism, which is why we haven't addressed the issue -- because we were concerned how we were going to be perceived, as older male white judges who were out of touch."
"I think this has been an ongoing problem for a considerable period of time," says David Scott, the president of the local bar association, and it became a heated topic of discussion at the most recent Bench and Bar Committee meeting.
Many in the local legal community agree with Taylor's points, including Scott, the president of the local bar association. "There are no casual days in court," he explains. "Our clients pay us money that does not come easy to them, and I think we owe them to look our best when we're up there representing them."
"It took a long time for courts to even allow women in the courts with pantsuits on," says the anonymous legal assistant, who's been working in the local legal profession for 40 years. "Miniskirts are not appropriate. Spaghetti straps are not appropriate."
But Taylor never anticipated that he'd make the national news. "I'm glad it's sparking conversation. It probably was needed," he says. And he insists that he's not picking on women, and never suggested a pantyhose rule.
"I don't think I could defend that in any way," says Scott, about the pantyhose rumor. "Even as an attorney, I don't think I could even find the gray area for that one."