You Can Never Un-See Partner Porn


What the hell is it about men that makes them get such a kick out of making women feel uncomfortable? Seriously.

The IP boutique firm I worked for until recently had two offices. One in Palo Alto, one in San Francisco. I worked in the Palo Alto office, but one day I was called to visit the San Francisco office to meet with a client because the deal partner was unavailable and I was the most up-to-date. Not a problem.

While I knew most of the attorneys in the San Francisco office by name, there were several I had never met in person. So I was excited to introduce myself and say hello. It’s the larger of the two offices where most of the partners are based, so obviously I thought it’d be a great opportunity to get some face time.

I arrived at the San Francisco office a few hours before my meeting was scheduled, so I borrowed the office of the partner who was out for the day—just as I was instructed to do on the phone by the office manager. A lovely office. Picture perfect, actually—complete with a gorgeous view of the bay.

I walked in, sat down at the desk and began unpacking my things. I’d brought my own laptop, so had no reason to use his computer. All was well. I admired a picture of his kids on the credenza for a quick moment and started some work.

Ten minutes later, a young male partner came into the office with a male first-year associate. I had met the partner a few times before. He’s always the one taking out and “entertaining” the young associates and summer interns. As the only female in my starting class, I certainly wasn’t unfamiliar with his amorous and gregarious ways. While we’ve never shared anything other than a professional relationship, his presence has always made me feel a little tense.

After a second of small talk and meeting the first-year, the young partner immediately pointed and asked me if I’d used the resident partner’s computer. Of course I answered no. Then, in one fell swoop, he reached over and proceeded to turn it on. I silently panicked.

Once the desktop screen appeared, he immediately clicked and found the “xxx” directory. Before you know it, I saw breasts bouncing on the screen, and he instructed me and the associate to watch a stream of hard-core porn on the computer.

Shocked, I can hardly even remember how I reacted exactly. I’m still so confused.

The first-year associate was laughing hysterically. I think I witnessed a bonding moment. Then, for a second, I thought I was being framed. As if someone was about to walk in any moment so they could both point at me and said I did it. Was this just a guy thing? Was this supposed to be entertaining to me? Was this some elaborate ruse to get me fired? Does the resident partner seriously watch this smut on his computer with a picture of his kids over his shoulder?

All I could do was tell him to turn it off and get out. Paranoid about even putting a fingerprint on the keyboard, I made him close every open window and click “Shut Down.” They laughed all the way out of the office and down the hall. I just started working again. I never made a stink or told anyone else in the office or ever expressed to the young partner how appalled I was.

But I always wonder, what would any other female lawyer have done in that situation? And to the guys, what would you have done as a first-year associate? Would you just sit there and giggle?

Luckily, a new job opportunity found me shortly after. But I still replay that day in my head on loop.

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34 Comments

  1. PGuy

    January 5, 2010 at 7:07 am

    You know, all the traditionally testosterone-laden work sites in America–the construction sites and factories, the places where this sort of junior high horse play is expected–have all had the shit sued out of them by now, and they don’t do this kind of thing any more. Hell, I went to law school in the ‘80s and I was reading those cases. Law firms are the only environment I know of where female workers are still so enslaved that they won’t stick up for their rights when being sexually harassed. What does that say about us as a profession?

    As to the porn itself, yes, every guy watches porn, and every guy who can’t set up a safe porn viewing site at home, because of the kids, will do so at the office (if that’s possible.) It used to be a Penthouse in the side desk drawer, now it’s a hard drive folder. That’s not the point. The partner had an expectation of privacy (foolishly) on his computer. He wasn’t the one showing his stuff to you. The point is that you were sexually harassed by the partner who forced you to watch it. You should have sued.

  2. KateLaw

    January 5, 2010 at 7:25 am

    I would have probably done the same thing as you because, let’s face it, the reason you did not make a big stink about the incident is because you needed your job and wanted to avoid the hassle of a HR issue or lawsuit.  This story is just a great example of why I think so many male attorneys I know are lame.  Actually, lame was the first word that came to my mind when I finished reading your post.  I am truly sorry you had to deal with that complete douche of a man and think it’s great that you have moved on to a (hopefully) better place of employment.

  3. Craig

    January 5, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I agree with Kate that it is lame.  But who really cares.  It is not like you have never seen porn or had sex before. As a guy I would have just giggled and said “nice” or “cool” or something and then walked out of the room.  Not really putting that much more thought into it.

  4. BL1Y

    January 5, 2010 at 9:52 am

    This incident has nothing to do with the associate being female.  I could easily see the exact same situation happening with a male associate sitting at the desk.  All they were after was to see what your reaction would be.  Would you get upset, or would you just recognize it as stupid and juvenile, but ultimately harmless?  You should have recognized this for what it was, their way of inviting you to be one of the boys.  They were treating you exactly how guys treat their friends, but you blew it.  You should have just said “Wow, I didn’t know porn stars had such small dicks” or “I don’t see how men don’t find porn depressing, knowing you’ll never have sex with a woman who looks like that.”

  5. KateLaw

    January 5, 2010 at 11:26 am

    She didn’t blow anything.  Invitation to be one of the boys?  Maybe in another setting.  At work?  Unbelievably inappropriate and she acted correctly by shutting it down and not making it an issue.  It was extremely juvenile, but I would not be so quick to call it harmless.  I could go into a long reason why, but Im not trying to turn this into a Bitter Lawyer post battle in which some people engage.  Any female and even many men would likely know what I mean when I say that.

  6. Anonymous

    January 5, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    I don’t think this was about the partner who turned on the computer at all – I think he felt like he knew you enough that he wanted to communicate something to you about the partner whose office it was.  The joke was supposed to be on him, not you.

  7. Cheryl

    January 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    KateLaw: You spoke volumes. 

    BL1Y: Can you really criticize a woman for not coming up with a Julia Roberts movie quote after being so thrown off base?  Since when is an invitation to be in the boys’ club something you should jump on?

  8. BL1Y

    January 5, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Kate: Are you seriously harmed when you inadvertently see two fairly attractive people having sex? Do Calvin Klein ads make you apply burn cream? http://cyana.tv/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/ck_1.jpg

  9. Quit yer bitchin

    January 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    For the love of god, can we get over it?  You saw porn.  Big deal. 
    I agree with the commenters who say that you have a valid claim.  You do!  Why?  Because stupid have ruined everything with their humorless whining. 
    Realistically, did it HARM you?  Did it REALLY hurt you?  No?  Shut the hell up, do your goddamned job, and if you are angry about it, then go burn off some steam on the treadmill, because anyone who bitches about this kind of thing must be fat.

    • Disappointed

      April 5, 2012 at 10:45 am

      @quit- I really hope you aren’t a member of this profession, what an embarrassment. You have no idea how awful it feels as a woman to be in a male dominated profession and constantly made to feel like a sexual object. It’s not about the porn.

      Here’s hoping you don’t work with any women..

  10. BL1Y

    January 5, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    “because anyone who bitches about this kind of thing must be fat” omg, that’s funny because it’s true.

  11. New Yorker

    January 5, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    I think you handle yourself as well as anyone could with the surprise factor.  My Grandma always repeated the old saying, “First time shame on them, the second time shame on you.” If it ever happens again with the good old boys, just get up and say, “Play with your self guys, I’m out of here.”

  12. Guano Dubango

    January 5, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    I side with the camp that says “get over it, beeotch”.  After all, porn is just sex, and if it wasnt for sex, none of us would be here.  Besides, good sex is good for us, so they say.  So if women can’t take it, they should get out of the kitchen.  I know this will not endear me to the women, but I must be truthful to my ideals.

  13. Obvious

    January 5, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    This bitch needs to get laid.

  14. KateLaw

    January 6, 2010 at 4:33 am

    Sorry, it was undeniably wrong and I bet she was decent looking.

  15. BL1Y

    January 6, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Why do you bet she was decent looking?  On average female attorneys are unattractive, and there’s nothing suggesting she was good looking, so…do you just suck at math?

  16. KateLaw

    January 6, 2010 at 9:25 am

    If she was a water buffalo, I bet watching porn in front of her would have been weird & uncomfortable for the men.  So I assume she was decent looking.

  17. Desi

    January 6, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    I think it’s time for the women to turn it on the men and make them uncomfortable.

  18. Hannah Palindrome

    January 6, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    I don’t know what the big deal is…it’s just porn.

  19. BigLawInParis

    January 7, 2010 at 2:42 am

    This story is so not plausible… Accessing a PC that is not password-protected, in a law firm??? Come on… Whether the files were on the local hard drive on the firm’s network, they couldn’t have accessed it – that is, unless they had the partner’s pwd (very unplausible also).

  20. Alma Federer

    January 7, 2010 at 4:49 am

    I think men do this to make us comfortable if they want to have sex. But they are so stupid because showing us some woman taking on 3 men will not make it easier for us to stomachi only 1 man.  We are not lawyers just to have our orifices stuffed with your slimy body parts.  We did not go to law school so that you could find a place for your fingers.  Or that little weenie.  No, we are lawyers and we expect you to treat us with respect, not like the women who are being pulled, prodded and screwed in those cheap porn movies.  And those women get paid for doing that.  I don’t see any of you cheapskates offering us anything of value; a happy meal at McDonalds or Wendy’s doesn’t cut it.  We want candle light dinners, shows and jewelery, and no sex until we are MARRIED.  Sorry guys, but I am not going to put out for you until then.

  21. Crystal Ball

    January 7, 2010 at 10:12 am

    I bet when the partner found out what had happened in his office, the younger male partner was toast: he did not exercise suitable partner discretion; he held another partner up to ridicule; he exposed the firm to a world of hurt in any sex harassment suit ever filed by someone else (not this woman-too transitory);but repeating the incident in court in another lawsuit is a killer.

  22. B Clinton

    January 7, 2010 at 10:15 am

    I would have comforted the woman, clucked at the two disgusting departed lawyers, invited the woman out for a drink, and back to my place.

  23. Shitty, just shitty, if true, but probably not tru

    January 7, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    You know, if that truly happened as you described (and I find it so shockingly inappropriate and demonstrative of terrible judgment that I kind of doubt it), that’s just outrageous.  How could a firm rise to any level of prominence with attorneys who exhibit such poor judgment?  I doubt it’s true, and question the storyteller here.  Provocative, but dubious.

  24. bitter patent lawyer

    January 7, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    I don’t doubt this is true.  I am male and went back to law school later in my career so I am older than the 1st year associate in the story.  A variation on this theme happened with a younger male and female partner and I had to say that the female partner seemed non-plussed.  I was, however, aghast at the male partner’s conduct and asked the male partner, nicely, to turn it off as it was making me uncomfortable. he did laughing all the time.  I am not sure if i just felt really old and out of it at 36 or if the male partner was really just an idiot.

  25. Guano Dubango

    January 7, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I believe good porn has one purpose.  That is, to excite the females into becoming “ready” for us male warriors.  If they are not excited, it is not pleasurable for either the woman or us men.  Hence, I believe showing the woman porn will help her.  However, if the female looks like a moose, getting her excited could create an unsavory odour that can result in the male leaving the bedroom.

  26. www.pinkshoelawyer.blogspot.com

    January 9, 2010 at 8:30 am

    but stooping to their level will reap miles of professional advantages!
    They lied to us when we were growing up.  Professional environments aren’t full of professionals.  They’re full of horny 14 year olds who manage (barely) to contain their natural inclinations when they’re standing in front of a court reporter or interviewing young female law school students for the first time.
    You’ll relax into it, I promise.

  27. LwyrGrl

    January 11, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Only in a law firm.  After 4 years in a corporate environment (and clerical temping at multiple big corps through undergrad), I was blown away by the amount of sexual harassment you put up with in a lot of law firms!  This sort of thing just doesn’t happen in most of the business world.  I’m sorry you had to put up with that.  Your reaction is perfectly normal – probably what I would have done to.  Some men are worthless wastes of humanity, and go to law school as its the only way they can think of to garner any respect in life.

  28. Get real

    January 11, 2010 at 11:39 am

    You guys trying to minimize this are idiots. 
    The bottom line is that anyone with common sense, much less a bunch of lawyers, realizes this is over-the-top inappropriate and clearly sexual harassment. 
    These guys knew it, and they did it anyway, to a woman they had just met.  Either it was a passive aggressive way of showing disrespect to her or dominance over her by callously disregarding all manners and even work place law, or it was a cheap way for these guys to get off…throwing an unsuspecting woman into a lewd sexual situation, the same way flashers get off by suddenly flashing unsuspecting women their penises.

  29. lurker

    January 15, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    any unwanted showing of sexual images can cause deep emotional and psychological distress.
    I am a young male associate who regularly uses colorful language around most people and believes that the feminist movement is one big crock of shit, and any woman who identifies herself as a feminist is an unorignial, whiny, conspiracy-theory laced moron.
    However—forcing porn on anyone in a workplace is simply wrong. It is akin to exposing oneself in public and forcing others to watch.
    This partner should be sued to high heaven,a nd rightly so.

  30. Not so unusual

    January 29, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I worked at a law firm and went into a partner’s office while he was looking at porn on his computer.  I acted as though I saw nothing, and asked him the question I had.  A similar thing happened when I worked at the state legislature.  It stuck with me, and I now knock and announce at both open and closed doors.  It doesn’t seem unusual, but it also doesn’t seem appropriate.  I have no problem with porn, but think there are appropriate times and places to view it.  At least close your office door or turn your screen so people can’t see what you are looking at.

  31. saxguy01

    April 5, 2012 at 7:42 am

    As a guy, I would have done the same thing. You don’t mess with porn at work. It’s too easy to get fired nowadays. I would have flipped out on those guys. As far as having a claim, that’s up to you to decide and don’t let douchebags keep you from pursuing it if you have really been injured by it. If it’s a culture of sexual harassment, then start documenting it. There’s a big difference between harmless flirting and being a creepy slime bag.

    It does not make you a bitch to expect men to treat you with respect in a professional work environment. My guess is the young partner and associate have never had a job outside of the law firm and have never had to sit through hours of sexual harassment prevention seminars.

  32. EllaElla

    April 5, 2012 at 8:09 am

    I would have raised a sexual harassment claim with HR. I don’t have a problem with porn, but I do have a problem with someone I barely know thinking it’s acceptable to play porn in front of me at work. If you think that is an overreaction to the behavior, I don’t care I suggest you not to something like that to me, or you’ll find yourself losing precious billable hours sitting through awkward sensitivity trainings.

  33. Dr. Juris

    April 5, 2012 at 9:16 am

    That anyone could think your reaction was over the top is absolutely absurd. I don’t care about others watching porn, but if I were forced to watch it with two co-workers who I didn’t know from Adam, it would infuriate me (and cause me some serious gastro-distress, since I’m pretty sure these male lawyers certainly aren’t prizes, which is something a lot of the posters seem to forget in their haste to brand all women lawyers as ugly). Perhaps a funny quip would be more suitable with a few close friends you’ve known for several years who pull this kind of prank on you (although I still maintain that this is HIGHLY inappropriate), but in this situation, NO. Just…no.

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