Global legal giant Baker + McKenzie have been under some stringent criticism for the way in which they handled the issues relating to the former senior partner, Gary Senior, who faces charges of sexually harassing a younger female solicitor.
The criticism came at the 15 day hearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) where lead counsel for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Andrew Tabachnik QC, said the law firm permitted Senior to influence the conduct and outcome of an investigation into a complaint made about his conduct.
It is alleged that Senior tried to kiss the neck of the junior colleage after a work dinner.
Senior subsequently went on to lead Baker McKenzie in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Two others — including another former partner at the London office of the US firm (see below) — are accused of allowing Senior “improperly to influence” an internal investigation by the firm into his alleged sexual harassment.
The associate – referred to as Person A due to reporting restrictions – alleged Senior propositioned her in his hotel room in the early hours of 24 February 2012, made an inappropriate compliment about her appearance and gave her an ‘unwelcome’ and ‘unwanted’ kiss on the neck.
the firm has also been accused of failing to report the matter to the SRA until February 2018 despite being aware that Senior had sought to initiate intimate activity with the associate, was guilty of a serious error of judgment and that his conduct was aggravated by his seniority.
The two others facing charges are the firm’s former litigation partner, Tom Cassels, and former HR head, Martin Blackburn, are also facing prosecution for their roles in leading the initial investigation into Senior’s misconduct.
‘This is not a case where people apply their minds to the reporting obligations and decide [that] on balance it is not reportable [to the SRA],’ said Tabachnik. ‘This is a situation where no-one thought about it at all, and that’s what makes it culpable.’
The harassment incident allegedly occurred in 2012 when Senior and a small group went first to a bar, then a night club and back to his hotel afterwards.
Finding the hotel bar closed, a group of five ended up in Senior’s room, where they ordered other drinks. At about 3am the party broke up, and Senior and Person A ended up alone, which she says was because he invited her to stay.
Tabachnik said that Senior told Person A she was very attractive, followed by leaning in to kiss her on her neck, which was ‘unwelcome’ and ‘unwanted’. After she had left the room a few minutes later, Senior sent Person A an email saying: ‘Sorry!!’
Tabachnik said that Person A was ‘extremely distressed by the actions of her managing partner’ and ‘didn’t welcome the prospect of any further encounter with him’.
‘She was fearful that her career at the firm would be adversely affected by the fact that she had rejected her managing partner’s advances.’
The firm reached a settlement with Person A, who was given two years’ salary plus £15,000 and left the firm. Senior stayed at Bakers and later took on the role of EMEA head but is now with Finlay Gardener.