If the former head of Baker McKenzie had been accused of sexual harassment in 2020 rather than 2012 he would have been suspended immediately, the firm’s former HR chief told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal yesterday.
Under cross examination, respondent Martin Blackburn said: ‘I think today [Gary Senior] would have been suspended so I wouldn’t be in this position… I was dealing with him on a range of things, on a day-to-day basis. I had a pre-existing relationship with him and he was my boss - and London managing partner.’
Senior is accused of trying to embrace and kiss a junior associate in a hotel room in 2012, despite receiving no indication of consent. He denies misconduct.
Blackburn – who is accused of allowing Senior to improperly influence or seek to influence the subsequent investigation – said Senior was on an ‘emotional roller coaster’ which was ‘very hard to manage, not least because he was my boss’. He also suggested an external investigator would have been brought in immediately, had allegations been made today.
For the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Andrew Tabachnik QC quizzed Blackburn over emails he sent to Senior in the aftermath of the alleged incident. In one email, Blackburn said his respect for Senior was ‘unchanged over this situation and, like you, I’m still struggling to come to terms with the potential ramifications which I sincerely hope we can avoid’.
Blackburn told the tribunal: ‘It is not how I felt or feel. It is clearly not the case. How could my respect for him be unchanged given what he has done?’ He added that the email was sent during the ‘most difficult week of my working life’.
It also emerged during the cross examination that Senior had been due to become the London office's gender champion shortly after the alleged incident. The role eventually went to Tom Cassels, a former partner and fellow respondent in the proceedings.
The hearing, being conducted remotely, will continue on Friday.