An Illinois attorney has been suspended by the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission over several misconduct allegations, including an ad he posted on Craigslist for a legal secretary that would "require sexy dressing" and "sexual interaction."
Samir Zia Chowhan was issued a one year suspension from practice in an Illinois Supreme Court decision Monday for a handful of ethical violations, including making a false statement, when he initially denied posting the following Craigslist ad, entitled "Loop lawyers hiring secretary/legal assistant," on the website's "adult" employment section on May 28, 2009:
Loop law firm looking to hire am [sic] energetic woman for their open secretary/legal assistant position. Duties will include general secretarial work, some paralegal work and additional duties for two lawyers in the firm. No experience required, training will be provided. Generous annual salary and benefits will be provided, including medical, dental, life, disability, 401(k) etc. If interested, please send current resume and a few pictures along with a description of your physical features, including measurements. We look forward to meeting you.
When an interested applicant responded to the ad with her employment history, a photo and her measurements, she began an e-mail exchange with Chowhan, who explained that previous hires were "unable to handle the sexual aspect of the job" prompting him to require a sexual performance during the job interview.
"in addition to the legal work, you would be required to have sexual interaction with me and my partner, sometimes together sometimes separate...You will have to be comfortable doing this with us." Chowhan wrote in an e-mail, according to the hearing board's report. "We've decided that as part of the interview process you'll be required to perform for us sexually (I didn't do this before with the other girls I hired, now I think I have to because they couldn't handle it). Because that aspect is an integral part of the job, I think it's necessary to see if you can do that."
Alarmed by this requirement, the applicant forwarded the Craigslist ad and her email exchange with Chowhan to the ARDC, requesting an investigation. Chowhan initially denied posting the ad in a fax sent to the Counsel for the Administrator of the disciplinary commission, blaming "somebody with malice [sic] intentions." On September 22, 2009, Chowhan confessed in a sworn statement at the ARDC Chicago office that he posted the ad and sent the emails from his office in a suite he shared with other firms.
In the disciplinary ruling, Terrence M. Burns, Chairman of the ARDC of the Supreme Court of Illinois, cited a 2001 misconduct ruling against an attorney who "tied women with rope and did not immediately release them" and was suspended for two years. Burns acknowledged that Chowhan's actions were not as serious, but used his position of authority in an employment context inappropriately, which "reflects poorly on the legal profession."
"There's a lot more involved than just the Craigslist ad," which was the third in a three-count complaint, said Scott Renfroe, Chief of Supreme Court Practice at ARDC. "The Craigslist ad was a part of the case, and was found by a hearing panel to be inappropriate, but he was disciplined not for the ad but for the false statements on it, and for failure to participate in the hearing" (Chowhan did not appear and was not represented by counsel, according to the hearing report).
See the full hearing report: