Summary: A partner for Baker McKenzie has been dismissed after a sexual assault complaint handled years ago has been made public.
Baker McKenzie LLP, an international law firm, fired one of their partners after the attorney was accused of sexually assaulting a female colleague. According to the Financial Times, Baker McKenzie states that the alleged assault happened “several years ago.”
The incident apparently happened after a business event, possibly in the UK, when the partner invited a few junior lawyers back to his hotel room for drinks. The female associate told Baker McKenzie’s human resources department about the alleged assault after the incident happened. The complainant later left the firm after agreeing to sign a non-disclosure agreement and receiving a payout.
Baker McKenzie has since apologized for the incident, admitting they should have handled it differently. The Solicitors Regulation Authority, a supervisory body for solicitors in Wales and England, was “aware of the issue and gathering all relevant information before deciding on appropriate action.” They said a formal investigation had not been opened yet.
Website RollOnFriday first broke the story, claiming the partner was actually promoted after the alleged assault complaint was made against him to the firm. The partner has now been asked to leave. RollOnFriday also reported that a partner at Dentons LLP has been put on leave while they investigate sexual misconduct claims against him. The incidents allegedly happened in the UK as well.
Sexual harassment and assault claims are rarely made public, but attorneys and legal experts confess that the incidents are common in the industry. The big issue is that many victims leave voluntarily or are asked to leave, but must sign a non-disclosure agreement first before they can receive a severance payout. The victims fear the legal problems of breaking the agreement so they don’t speak out about their experiences.
RollOnFriday founder Matthew Rhodes told the Financial Times that sexual harassment still happens even today. “Rather depressingly, if not surprisingly, it suggests that the profession is just as susceptible to powerful men behaving inappropriately to more junior members of staffs as any other sector,” Rhodes said. “What has disappointed us, in both this and other cases, is how some firms have only taken really serious action after we’ve contacted them.”
This is the case for Baker McKenzie. The firm said the partner “is no longer in the office and will be leaving the firm.” They claim the complaint was taken “very seriously” at the time, reaching a confidential settlement with the victim. They will conduct an independent review of the incident and the handling of it. “The review will also consider how we handle complaints of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behavior towards colleagues, to ensure we are guaranteeing the protection of our employees. We are really sorry this incident ever happened and we acknowledge we should have handled it better.”
The Dentons partner accused of sexual misconduct was with his previous firm Maclay Murray & Spens at the time, which has since merged with Dentons. When Dentons became aware of the issue, “we launched an internal investigation and the partner concerned is now on a leave of absence and will not be attending the office while the investigation is ongoing.”
Do you think non-disclosure agreements should be used for sexual assault cases, or is it a form of hiding a criminal act? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
To learn more about other attorneys accused of sexual assault, read these articles:
- Entertainment Attorney Benjamin Adams’ Sexual Abuse Case Goes to Trial
- Former Judge Paul Pressler Accused of Sexual Abuse of a Minor
- Connecticut Lawyer Peter Kruzynski Pleads Guilty