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Baker McKenzie Partner Is Accused of Sexual Assault, But Where's the #MeToo?

Vivia Chen

February 13, 2018

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Call it #MeToo, British style.

While women in the U.S. and many parts of the world are spilling their guts about harassment and assault, and airing the names of their alleged perpetrators along the way, the Brits are keeping their lips tightly sealed.

That seems to sum up the situation involving a Baker & McKenzie partner in its U.K. office. According to RollOnFriday, which broke the story, "one of Baker McKenzie’s most senior partners sexually assaulted one of his female associates." Though the assault was described by the tabloid as "relatively minor," it was deemed "sufficiently serious" by firm management to pay the associate "a significant sum of money" that involved a confidentiality agreement.

And the upshot: The associate left the firm, but the partner stayed on and got promoted, says RollOnFriday. Classic!

So this is the question everyone is asking: Who's the lecherous turkey?

Well, here's where it gets really curious: Apparently various publications know his identity, but mum's the word. RollonFriday, which is generally not shy, reports that it is not disclosing "the name of the perpetrator—so as not to risk identifying the victim."

That's the same reason given by our sister pub, Legal Week: "We have decided not to publish the name at present in case it would encroach in any way on the victim’s privacy and right to anonymity. We should also stress that the alleged offence was never taken to the police, let alone through the courts."

All this "protect the victim" stuff sounds very noble. But what convoluted logic.

In my opinion, this is much more protective of the alleged accuser than the victim. Plus, as Legal Week indicated, "with the partner in question now set to leave, more and more people will find out each day." So why play coy? 

Lawyers are probably advising folks to keep their mouth shut (remember the U.K. and Europe have very strict privacy laws), but, for some reason, no one is owning up to that either. 

To add to the intrigue, Baker McKenzie issued its own statement, confirming the misconduct and settlement. Of course, the firm isn't identifying the alleged wrongdoer, though it assures everyone he's getting the boot. Here is Baker's statement in its entirety: 

We take any allegations of inappropriate behaviour or misconduct extremely seriously. This incident occurred several years ago and was reported by our HR team at the time. We treated the allegation very seriously and immediately carried out a thorough investigation, including obtaining both external and internal advice. On completion of the investigation, the Firm imposed sanctions on the partner concerned. A confidential settlement was then reached with the employee, which we are not in a position to discuss to protect the interests of the employee. Our Code of Business Conduct reflects the values of our organisation, and we expect all of our people, whether partners or employees, to abide by the principles and standards of behaviour set out in that Code.

We are in dialogue with the SRA (UK regulator) on this matter. As a Firm, our values of inclusion and diversity are extremely important to us and we are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all employees. That is why we are commissioning an independent review of this particular incident and how it was subsequently handled by the Firm. The review will also consider how we handle complaints of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behaviour toward 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 partner is no longer in the office and will be leaving the firm.

And there it is again: "A confidential settlement was then reached with the employee, which we are not in a position to discuss to protect the interests of the employee." Got that? The agreement and the silence it demands are for the sake of the victim! 

What's confusing about the statement is that it says that Baker conducted "a thorough investigation, including obtaining both external and internal advice," right after the incident came out. But in the next paragraph, it talks about "commissioning an independent review of this particular incident and how it was subsequently handled by the Firm." So I guess that the first review wasn't so thorough after all?

What's more plausible is that Baker got caught keeping an alleged assaulter on its payroll in the post #MeToo era and is now in major damage control mode. (It also seems to be in hot water with SRA, U.K's Solicitor Regulation Authority, for not reporting the charge.)

So after looking deep into its corporate soul, the firm has decided that this indispensable partner must be dispensed. 

I don't mean to pick on Baker, because I'm sure many firms would have done (or did) the same thing—that is, retaining the partner while quietly getting rid of his accuser.

But there's some rich irony in Baker's situation. Back in 1994, Baker got slapped with a $7.1 million judgement in a case in which a secretary accused a partner of sexual harassment. At the time, it was hailed as the largest sexual harassment judgement. 

Another fun irony: Baker McKenzie was named one of the top law firms for women by Working Mother magazine in collaboration with the ABA Journal—for seven years in a row!

In any case, I find this we-won't-name-names game to be rather tiresome, particularly since the identity of the partner is already out there. I'm sure all of Baker's U.K. office knows, and it's the gossip of the town. To me, the sensible thing is for all involved to waive their confidentiality and come clean. 

Not to be an unsubtle, impatient American, but isn't this the perfect time for a real #MeToo moment?

 

vchen@alm.com

Comments

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Yes, it is (perfect time for a real #Me Too moment), Ms. Chen.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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