Q) I’m a second year associate at a large firm. My work product seems to be well regarded and I get along with most folks in the office. I’m not one to knock life in BigLaw because I knew what I was getting into and it’s working out. Except that I now seem to be the butt of bad jokes and immature gossip. I’m a bit overweight and have been most of my life. I have large breasts for a guy and was shirtless at a summer social a year ago at a private beach. I assume that’s when the joking started. But I was unaware of it until a a few months ago when I walked into a conference room and one of the first year associates said, “hey, it’s the Bro,” obviously referring to me and the Seinfeld episode about Kramer’s invention of the mansierre. The room then fell horribly and awkwardly silent, informing me that I was essentially known as the Bro among associates and, who knows, possibly some partners.
Again, I’ve got thick skin, I’ve heard worse, and stuff like this normally rolls off quickly. But I have to admit it’s still nagging me, especially hearing it from a new associate. Suggestions?
A) Two things do not change after high school: 1) dating, which I’ll discuss over a beer; and 2) gossip, especially malicious gossip. But, and I’m sure you understand this, office gossip is about power, and it often rears its head whenever there is an imbalance of power, particularly at large law firms. The first year associate, without any power, is being a douchebag and trying to claim whatever he or she can get over you. Pathetic.
I see three approaches. First, you could just let it go and it will roll off, which apparently isn’t working. That’s probably the best suggestion. Second, you could turn the tables and embrace your whole Bro brand, essentially being self-deprecating and funny about it, doing the whole Frank Costanza thing. But that’s often tough to do without seeming like a patsy, especially if you’re young. Or, third, you could start to build a disability discrimination case. After all, the man bra is not fiction. It’s just been Kramerized into “the Bro” or “mansierre,” and laughed about. Technically, and more neutrally, it’s called a compression vest. It’s used most often by law firn partners trying to look buff. Or to treat a medical condition known as gynecomastia. Y’know, I’m way out on a limb here. But if one former associate can sue a law firm because he was allegedly terminated for being “creative and intelligent,” why not on account of actual disability in a law firm?
Personally, I wouldn’t go nuts on a federal case. I’m barely serious about it but, being an attorney, I had to spot the issue. Instead, I’d walk into the first year associate’s office, close the door, and have it out. Be direct, hint at anger. Word will then get out that you’re not to mess with (at least on this) and, over time, the whole Bro thing will disappear. I’d suggest other resources for gynecomastia, but I’m afraid my editors would start to include affiliate links along with them or link internally to posts on boobs, which would be awkward. I’ll leave things here.