‘Sexual Innuendos’ & Other Actions See Big Law Partner Lose ERA Appeal

'Sexual Innuendos' & Other Actions See Big Law Partner Lose ERA Appeal 2
'Sexual Innuendos' & Other Actions See Big Law Partner Lose ERA Appeal 3

Former Duncan Cotterill partner and former firm chair Richard Palmer (known as Dean Palmer) has lost his employment claim in the ERA where he claimed having been unfairly disadvantaged by the firm following allegations of inapporpriate behaviour towards younger female staff and others.

The allegations included claims that he had touched female staff and forwarded emails containing ‘sexual innuendos’.

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According to the ERA decision,Palmerwas employed by Duncan Cotterill as a consultant in 2015 after having been a partner at the firm for about 20 years.

In May 2017 the then chief executive of Duncan Cotterill, Terry McLaughlin, and chair Richard Smith had a discussion with Palmer about his bonus, when concerns were raised about his behaviour, including allegations of long lunches, a suggestion of touching female staff and an allegation that he had a habit of taking staff out for coffee and lunches, and that typically involved young female staff.

The ERA decision said there was evidence that over a two-month period ending July that year, Palmer had forwarded a junior staff member, whose name is suppressed, a series of emails suggesting dates for coffee and dinner. The emails, the decision recorded, contained both ‘sexual innuendos’ and “sheer repetitive nature of the email requests was regarded as an exacerbating factor as was the power imbalance between Mr Palmer and the complainant”.

Palmer alleges he suffered a personal grievance because his employer gave him a final written warning, which he claimed was unjustified and caused him disadvantage. The firm agreed there had been some disadvantage created by the firm’s actions but that they believed them to be justified.

Mr Palmer indicated that the firm was being ‘politically correct’.

Palmer claimed he meant no harm by such behaviour.

“This point is relevant because one of Mr Palmer’s defences, which appears to have been accepted by the employer, was that he meant no harm. The point here is that intention is irrelevant in circumstances such as this; what matters is how the behaviour is received by the other party,” ERA member James Crichton said in the decision.

“[The Complainant] said she found the behaviour “uncomfortable” and conveyed the impression that she could not simply decline Mr Palmer’s numerous proposals because of the power imbalance, which the firm says Mr Palmer made light of.”

“What investigation was needed took place, and so a fair and reasonable employer in Duncan Cotterill’s position could have concluded that a final written warning was an appropriate response to Mr Palmer’s identified behaviour.”

He concluded that he did not believe Palmer had any personal grievance.

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