The Florida Bar has taken steps to recognize parental leave as a valid reason for a continuance of trials and significant court activity for lead attorneys in cases—including both women and men attorneys. Recently, the Florida Bar Board of Governors voted unanimously to recommend a new Rule of Judicial Procedure to allow lead attorneys to obtain a three-month continuance for parental leave, provided the continuance does not cause “substantial prejudice” to opposing parties. If this rule is approved by the Florida Supreme Court, it will be the first of its kind in the United States.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. The vote marks the third time the Florida Bar has attempted to get such a rule passed. Some members of the Bar who opposed the proposed rule in the past believed it to be unnecessary and that continuance decisions should remain at the discretion of the judge.
But recent incidents of judges denying continuances for maternity leave—and even failing to permit short breaks for breastfeeding mothers to pump milk—continue to abound, as suggested here, here, here and here. Admittedly, many great judges do reasonably accommodate expectant mothers, but overall, there’s evidence that the discretion of judges has not worked well. In fact, often the system puts women attorneys in the difficult position of having to justify the “favor” of a continuance, or even filing bar complaints against judges who are hostile towards their pregnancies (when the women may very well have to appear before those judges again). Florida Special Committee on Gender Bias member, Paul SanGiovanni got it right when he said he’s not so much concerned with judges abusing their discretion, but