Diversity & Inclusion
Our Commitment to Diversity
Studies have shown that diverse and inclusive workplaces are happier workplaces, promoting higher levels of employee satisfaction, productivity and profitability. Lerners LLP is committed to the diverse community we serve and wants to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Diversity and Inclusion Committee
Lerners LLP has a Diversity and Inclusion Committee comprised of the following lawyers and staff members: Lisa Munro (Chair), Ginny Lacasse, Anna Matas, Nada Nicola-Howorth, David Lyons, Yola Ventresca, Karen Simpson, Megan Quinlan and Christina Weir. The committee’s mandate is as follows:
- Lerners LLP is committed to promoting throughout the firm diversity, equality, and inclusion regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnic, racial, religious, cultural, or socio-economic background, age, disability, family status, and other differences, as well as the intersection of multiple differences.
- We believe that adherence to these values fosters a culture of constructive communication, trust, dignity, loyalty, and respect among all members of the firm and enables us to attract, retain, and promote the best talent and better serve our clients.
- We view this as part of our commitment to excellence in all that we do.
Law Firm Diversity and Inclusion Network
Lerners LLP is a proud member of the Law Firm Diversity and Inclusion Network (LFDIN), which consists of a group of Canadian law firms that have agreed to work together to promote diversity and encourage a culture of inclusion in our firms and the broader legal profession. Diversity and inclusion are core values of LFDIN members. We believe that valuing and enhancing diversity and inclusion will help us attract and retain the best talent and better serve our clients’ needs in an evolving global marketplace. LFDIN members undertake to practice and advance diversity and inclusion by:
- Sharing ideas for the promotion of diversity and inclusion in connection with recruitment, retention and advancement within law firms;
- Working with Legal Leaders for Diversity and other general counsel, law departments, business leaders and professional associations in their efforts to advance diversity and inclusion;
- Supporting outreach programs in law schools and the broader community;
- Promoting thought leadership and constructive dialogue on issues of diversity and inclusion; and
- Continuously evaluating our efforts.
Languages We Speak
Among Lerners lawyers and staff, we speak various languages, in addition to English and French, including:
- American Sign Language
- Tagalog (Filipino)
In 2017, Lerners conducted a firm wide survey, asking lawyers and staff to evaluate the firm’s current diversity and inclusion programs and policies, and to provide recommendations for improvement. As a result, in addition to our current and ongoing initiatives, Lerners has now undertaken further initiatives to implement recommendations for improvement, with a view to ultimately making our workplace better.
Diversity and Inclusion Policies/Programs
- Anti-discrimination and Prevention of Workplace Violence and Harassment: Lerners LLP is committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment in which all persons are treated equally, and with respect, decency and dignity. Because every person has the right to work in a professional atmosphere that promotes equal opportunities and prohibits discriminatory practices, the firm does not tolerate any form of discrimination, violence or harassment and will take all reasonable steps to prevent and eliminate conduct that falls within the scope. The firm will not tolerate, condone or allow discrimination, violence or harassment by fellow employees, managers, associates or partners. The firm encourages reporting of all incidents of discrimination, violence and harassment regardless of who the offender may be.
- Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities: Lerners has developed and implemented a policy outlining the firm’s strategies to prevent and remove barriers from its workplace in order to improve employment opportunities for firm members with disabilities in accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) and Integrated Accessibility Standards, Ontario Regulation 191/11. Lerners is committed to providing a work environment whereby all firm members are treated with dignity, independence, integrity, integration and receive equal opportunities and accommodation where required.
- Pregnancy and Parental Leaves: Under its pregnancy/parental leave policy, the firm supplements the income of eligible lawyers, beyond Employment Insurance leave benefits, during their pregnancy/parental leave. The firm provides pregnancy/parental leaves, without pay, in accordance with the Employment Standards Act for all eligible staff members.
- Education and Training: The firm covers reasonable continuing professional development expenses and offers in-house Continuing Professional Development seminars for lawyers. Legal and administrative staff are eligible for reimbursement of continuing education programs upon successful completion of an approved program.
- Flexible Work Arrangements: The firm provides the opportunity for flexible work arrangements, on an as needed basis, to help lawyers and staff meet personal needs such as child/family member care, and personal health. These arrangements are implemented with the goal of balancing the interests of the lawyer or staff member, with the needs of the firm and its clients. The arrangement can include reduced-hours schedules, extended leave, ramp-up schedules/facilitated return to work, and full and part-time flexible work arrangements
Community Involvement and Pro Bono
We have a long-standing tradition of supporting charities and local communities with a wide variety of missions and constituencies. Our support includes financial donations, hosting events, acting as pro bono counsel and volunteer work by staff and lawyers, whether as board directors, committee members or simply organization members. Select examples include:
- Bikes n’ Brains (BIA)
- Bond Child and Family Development
- Camp Oochigeas
- Canadian Jewish Congress
- Canadian Latin American Association of London (CALA)
- Canadian Mental Health Association York Region
- Canadian Peres Centre for Peace
- Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System
- Common Ground Co-Operative
- Cross-Cultural Learner Centre
- Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL)
- Flip your Wig for Justice
- Greater Toronto Scout Foundation
- Heart and Stroke Foundation
- Hispanic Business Opportunities Committee, London Chamber of Commerce
- Juliette’s Place
- Law Help Ontario and Legal Aid Ontario
- Lawyers Feed the Hungry (London/Toronto)
- London Health Sciences Centre
- London Regional AIDS Hospice
- Meals on Wheels
- Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario
- Power Plant
- Red Shoe Society
- South Asian Bar Association
- Spinal Cord Injury of Ontario
- St. Joseph’s Hospice
- St. Jude Community Homes
- St. Michael’s Hospital Head Injury Clinic
- Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
- The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
- The Shoebox Project
- The Trauma Patients Assistance Fund
- The United Way
- Ukrainian Canadian Bar Association
- Women Immigrants of London (WIL)
- Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
Pro Bono Program
Lerners has a long-standing commitment to pro bono initiatives. Current programs include:
- Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO): supporting PBLO initiatives with both funding and lawyers who volunteer their time to these programs, including for appearances at the Supreme Court of Canada, Ontario Court of Appeal, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Small Claims Court, as well as appearing as Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) at all levels of court;
- Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA): supporting the CCLA with both funding and lawyers who volunteer their time to argue cases that are essential to protecting the fundamental freedoms of Canadians;
- Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF): supporting LEAF with both funding and lawyers who volunteer their time to argue cases that are essential to advancing equality for and protecting the rights of women and girls in Canada;
- Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS): partnering with PCLS on a pro bono program wherein Lerners lawyers take on overflow of Ontario Disability Support Program appeals; and
- Covenant House’s Safe House Program: providing pro bono services to survivors of sex trafficking who wish to seek financial compensation through applications to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
- RODA’s (Roundtable of Diversity Associations) 4th Annual Diversity Conference in Partnership with the OBA (Ontario Bar Association): Accelerating a Culture Shift in the Legal Profession
- Annual South Asian Bar Association Gala
- Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic Annual Tribute Dinner
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of London and Area “Big Bash on Bourbon Street”
- Canadian Civil Liberties Association Gala
- Canadian Civil Liberties Association Key Partnership
- Chinese Canadian Council Gala
- Durham Children’s Aid Foundation “Fore the Future” golf tournament
- Frank Cowan Company Home Town Program Fund
- Red Shoe Society Scarlet Ball
- Spinal Cord Injury Ontario Ski & Snowboard Day
- Women’s Law Association of Ontario Annual Golf Tournament
- YMCA Women of Excellence Gala
- Young Women in Law Gala
National Disability Employment Awareness Month: During the month of October 2018, Lerners will be highlighting the importance of all individuals within our communities by focusing on the accomplishments and achievements of people with disabilities.
In London we will be raising funds to support Community Living London, an organization dedicated to supporting people with development disabilities. Susie Matthias, a member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, will be in our offices working on watercolour paintings for her children’s book. Lerners and our clients will have an opportunity to see some of Susie’s artwork and speak with her about her passion for the arts.
Toronto celebrated by engaging everyone to have an open mind to the day-to-day challenges people with a disability may experience, encouraging them to experience how the environment around us can impact even the most ordinary of tasks. We also raised funds for the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS).
Extraordinary Women’s Event (EWE): For the past 12 years, Lerners’ Toronto office has hosted this Event, which gathers women who have positively impacted the lives and careers of the women at Lerners, celebrates those women and those relationships, and connects women to one another. In its early incarnation, this event was an intimate social gathering, attended by 20-40 women. It has since evolved into an eagerly anticipated, hugely popular signature event for our firm, attracting more than 200 women professionals every year, helping us to strengthen, develop and nurture professional networks. The Event is often profiled as a “must-attend” event by legal media, continuing to showcase our reputation for leadership in gender parity and broader diversity initiatives.
Lerners Women’s Symposium: The Lerners’ London office is pleased to have launched this dynamic new speakers series centered around educating, inspiring and empowering professional women to achieve their goals. Lerners Women’s Symposium will serve to showcase inspiring and dynamic women who have made significant achievements in their lines of work, from entrepreneurs to leading political figures. Most recently, this event was held on November 23, 2017, and featured Marlene McGrath, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at 3M, in an intimate one-on-one talk with Janet Stewart, Partner and former Managing Partner for over 30 years at Lerners. The conversation focused on mentoring, diversity and inclusion, career change and advancement for women in the workplace. Watch our short YouTube video showcasing the Women’s Symposium.
International Women’s Day Event: March 8, 2018 marked International Women’s Day (IWD) and provided an opportunity to acknowledge the ongoing struggle for gender equality in compensation, representation in business and politics, education and health while also recognizing improvements and progress.
In addition to wearing purple, the official colour of IWD, Lerners celebrated by hosting Delee Fromm to present on her recent book, “Understanding Gender at Work: How to Lose, Use and Expose Blind Spots for Career Success”. Relying on neuroscience, Delee explained how gender blind spots arise and result in bias in the workplace. She also explored different communication styles from a gendered perspective. Over 40 firm members attended over their lunch hour. To find out more information about Delee Fromm, her books, and her blogs watch her YouTube video.
In addition to hosting Delee, Lerners organized a clothing drive for Toronto’s “Dress for Success Toronto” and London’s “Clothing Works”. Firm members have generously donated gently used professional clothing, in particular for women, to provide job seekers who don’t otherwise have the resources the clothing and confidence to make the best possible impression with prospective employers.
Lerners is proud to have joined millions of people around the world in recognizing IWD as part of the ongoing fight for gender equality.
Black History Month: In February, 2018, Lerners welcomed Robyn Maynard and Justice Donald McLeod as speakers in our London and Toronto office.
Robyn Maynard, is the author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present. Robyn has spent the better part of the past decade doing frontline harm-reduction outreach work in Montreal and continues to provide training for health and social service providers on the harms created by systemic racism, criminal laws and stigmatization.
Justice McLeod grew up in Regent Park and knew he wanted to be a lawyer from the age of 10. He cofounded the youth organization 100 Strong, a non-profit organization borne out of the passion and vision of a group of accomplished, professional black men compelled to change the narrative of young African-Canada black boys as it exists today. He also co-founded Stand Up: Redefining the Colour of Success, a conference for boys in the seventh and eighth grades.
Indigenous Treaties and Laws Workshop: The Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission inspired Lerners’ Diversity and Inclusion Committee to raise awareness of Indigenous Treaties and Laws. As a Committee member, I volunteered to organize a workshop on the subject and invited Windsor Faculty of Law Professor Beverly Jacobs to lead lawyers and staff in meaningful discussions on this topic.
For me, an important takeaway was learning that the treaties and laws of Indigenous people cannot be interpreted by lawyers and judges in the same way they do our contemporary laws. Treaties and laws of Indigenous people need to be interpreted in conjunction with their unique history, cultures, identities, traditions, languages, etc. For example, land is not just a physical “thing”, but a representation of sanctuary and spirituality of their ancestry and future. I found it interesting to learn that Indigenous people start each event with what is called, “The Thanksgiving Address”. This is a spiritual acknowledgement of the powers of the natural world, including the land, people, plants, and air. Understanding Indigenous peoples’ connection to the land for the purposes of creation and sustainability is a lesson learned that we all took away. Professor Jacobs’ passion was overwhelming. Her expertise is incredibly valuable to the legal profession.
I also had the privilege of speaking one-one-one with Professor Jacobs about the roles of Indigenous women. Traditionally, they have been revered as life-givers and caregivers. Discussing with her the roles of women in the Creation and Mother Earth stories hit home both as a woman and as a mother when comparing these narratives to those which have necessitated the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
This workshop was yet another well-attended event by lawyers and staff. The opportunity to have gained new insights into Indigenous treaties and law and matters affecting my community and those around me was invaluable and I am certain that my colleagues would agree.
Ginny Lacasse, CEDS
Litigation Support Specialist
Diversity and Inclusion Committee member
Diversity and Inclusion Potluck: I attended the Diversity and Inclusion Potluck, where lawyers and staff got together to celebrate each others’ cultures through food. From savoury appetizers and main dishes to sweet treats, the Potluck offered a welcomed chance to try various new foods. Most importantly, the Potluck was a great way to meet new people and learn more about their lives outside of the office.
The food is only one aspect of any good meal. I find that the best meals I enjoy involve a warm environment and the opportunity to meet new people in a relaxed setting. The Potluck provided just that – a group of eight to ten people, along with myself, congregated in the Porthole Boardroom to eat together and discuss various family recipes. As a relatively new addition to Lerners, I valued the chance to meet other team members who I do not regularly see. Centring the event around food was a great way to encourage people to showcase their unique cultural backgrounds while also providing a relaxed environment in which to meet others. As an articling student, I was very thankful to welcome a change to my daily diet – while the food court downstairs has some good options, its comfortable and sociable ambience can be lacking.
While I would encourage all to pace themselves while eating to avoid the urge to take an afternoon nap, I would recommend everyone to participate in the next Diversity and Inclusion Potluck. I find food to be one of the best conversation starters – and it doesn’t hurt to show off your cooking skills to some fellow hungry co-workers!
Jessie Gomberg, Student-at-law
Recognitions, Awards, and Achievements
- Lisa Munro was selected by “Women’s Executive Network” as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100
- Cynthia B. Kuehl, deputy practice group leader for the Firm’s Health Law Group, received the Lexpert Zenith Award celebrating Women in Law
- Yola Ventresca was recognized as a Lexpert Rising Star
- Alfonso Campos Reales was a recipient of the 20 Under 40 Award by London Magazine Inc.
- Lerners was the recipient of the “Excellence in Litigation Award” from Pro Bono Law Ontario
- Lerners was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation by the Canadian Latin American Association of London (CALA) for its outstanding support and lasting contribution to the mission of CALA, which includes the promotion of cultural identity and integration
- Laura Emmett was recognized as a Lexpert Rising Star
- Gillian Hnatiw was recognized as a “Litigation Lawyer to Watch” by Lexpert
- Lisa Munro received the Lexpert Zenith Award for Diversity and Inclusion
- From 2015-2016, Maia Bent served as the President of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association
- Gillian Hnatiw was recognized as a Lexpert Rising Star
- Lisa Munro was selected by Diversity Journal as a recipient of its Women Worth Watching Award
- From 2014-2017, in partnership with the Women’s Law Association of Ontario, Lerners offered the Elizabeth Grace Emerging Leaders Award. The Award is named after Lerners Partner Elizabeth Grace, a well-respected advocate for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and champion of advancing the position of women in law in Ontario. The Award aims to recognize practical, policy and/or academic law-related work, leadership and contributions in areas that advances the understanding of sexual and/or domestic violence and abuse, or otherwise advances the rights and interests of vulnerable persons who have suffered and/or are at risk of suffering such violence and abuse.
- Elizabeth Grace was named one of Canada’s Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers for her commitment to advocating on behalf of victims of sexual abuse, and was also the recipient of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario President’s Award
- Elizabeth Grace was the recipient of the Lexpert Zenith Award for Leading Women Lawyers
R. v. Jarvis: Former Lerners’ partner Gillian Hnatiw represents the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) in this Supreme Court of Canada case, which considers a decision by a majority of the Ontario Court of Appeal that upheld the acquittal of a high school teacher who had used a camera pen to surreptitiously take videos of female students and of one female teacher, while he was conversing with them in school, and which focused on their chests and cleavage area.
Frank et al. v. Attorney General of Canada: Mark Freiman and Jameel Madhany represent the Canadian Civil Liberties Association as an intervener in this Supreme Court of Canada case, which considers whether the government has the power to deprive Canadian citizens of the right to vote when it deems Canadian citizens to be “non-residents.”
Bowden Institution v. Khadr: Former Lerners’ partner Gillian Hnatiw represented the Canadian Civil Liberties Association as an intervener at the Supreme Court of Canada in a case considering the interpretation of a foreign criminal sentence for purposes of implementing the sentence domestically, and the need to balance the offender’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, fundamental Canadian values and procedural fairness.
LC v. Alberta: Lerners’ Lucas Lung represented the plaintiffs in this class action involving a government department in a fiduciary relationship to vulnerable children who had been removed from their parents’ or guardians’ care by government authority that regularly failed to follow legislated requirements with respect to hundreds of children.
Miceli-Riggins v. Canada (Attorney General): Lerners’ Cynthia Kuehl acted on behalf of the appellant before the Federal Court of Appeal arguing that the combined operation of the proration and disability provisions in the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) had a discriminatory effect on women, particularly working mothers, contrary to s.15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Spence v. BMO Trust Company: Lerners’ Earl Cherniak represented the Respondents in this appeal of an order setting aside a will. The Respondents had brought an application to set aside the will of their deceased father, which disinherited the Respondents (the deceased’s daughter and grandson). The application judge set aside the will on the grounds of public policy, finding that the deceased had racist motivations.
Mavi v. Canada: Lerners’ Lucas Lung represented sponsors of family class immigrants who, for reasons beyond their control, had defaulted on undertakings they had given to the federal and Ontario governments to repay social assistance benefits given to their family members. The challenge to the matter, in which the governments enforced these so-called sponsorship debts, was pursued through to the Supreme Court of Canada.
SHRC v. Whatcott: Lerners’ Mark Freiman represented the Canadian Jewish Congress as an intervener at the Supreme Court of Canada in a case considering whether Human Rights Commissions have the right to sanction hate speech.
Chaoulli and Zeliotis v. Attorney General in Right of Quebec: Lerners’ Earl Cherniak was counsel to 10 senators on a senate committee that completed a study of Canada’s health care system in a matter relating to the constitutionality of the current health care regime.
Representation of First Nations sexual assault survivors of pedophile ex-priest Ralph Rowe: Lerners’ Elizabeth Grace, Anna Matas, and former Lerners’ lawyer Gillian Hnatiw were counsel to First Nations sexual assault survivors of Ralph Rowe, an Anglican priest and Scouts Canada leader who was convicted of sexually abusing nearly 60 First Nations boys in remote communities over almost two decades.