U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Photo: Jason Doiy/ALM.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has taken steps to improve its workplace rules after the #MeToo movement swept through the federal court last December.

Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas announced on Monday that the federal appeals court has accepted several recommendations from a special committee he convened in December to look into workplace policies and procedures for employees.

Chief Judge Sidney Thomas.

“In an effort to promote and safeguard a healthy working environment, our goal is to make our policies and procedures more accessible, more understandable and more effective,” he said.

The adopted changes include establishing a director of workplace relations to oversee workplace issues that arise within the Ninth Circuit courts and provide “discrimination and sexual harassment training,” according to the release by the appeals court.

The release noted that employees, starting in October, will have 180 days to bring a complaint under a revised employment dispute resolution policy, instead of the existing 30-day window.

Other recommendations appear to be aimed at making it easier for employees who have experienced sexual misconduct to come forward.

Changes included “reducing barriers to reporting workplace misconduct”, “providing multiple avenues for employees to seek informal advice on workplace issues” and giving the option of “assisted resolution of workplace disputes.”

The moves come after multiple women accused now-retired Judge Alex Kozinski of engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior. Many of the women worked directly under or with the judge.

Thomas later convened a “special ad hoc committee” to look into workplace issues. The committee, chaired by Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown, includes three other judges in the Ninth Circuit and one San Diego attorney.

“These recommendations are the result of a broad outreach effort over several months to both current and former law clerks and other court employees,” McKeown said. “There was an intensive effort to gather information and hear from court employees about workplace issues.”

The committee said that some of the recommendations came after the committee sent out a questionnaire to “almost 6,000 current and former employees” of the appeals court, other focus groups, and letters to law school deans “soliciting ideas for cooperation between the law schools and the courts with respect to law clerks and externs.”

Separately, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also directed a working group last year to review the federal judiciary’s procedures “for investigating and correcting inappropriate behavior” in the U.S. courts. That report is expected to be released later this month.

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