The male owner of a law firm who asked an interviewee whether she had a boyfriend and told her she was beautiful has been fined £20,000 by the tribunal.
Victor Nwosu, a solicitor for 17 years, repeatedly commented to the woman, who was interviewing for a paralegal role, about her looks and said words to the effect of ‘mmm, I like what I see’ when she turned around to hang her jacket up. The woman reported being ‘horrified’ by the interview and said she felt ‘like a piece of meat’.
Nwosu denied any misconduct and accused the woman of lying, but the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said the language used could only be considered to have sexual connotations. When he offered her the job, he stated that she would have to wear skirts and high heeled shoes and said that he would ‘only employ beautiful women’.
Nwosu’s lawyer had pointed to references which attested to the fact that he was not a ‘sexual predator’, to which the tribunal responded: ‘The tribunal was not required to determine whether [Nwosu] was a sexual predator, it was required to determine whether the comments he made and the questions he posed to [the interviewee] during a job interview were sexually motivated and/or for sexual gratification. The tribunal determined that they were.’
The woman had been interviewed for a position at Nwosu’s north west London practice Dylan Conrad Kreolle Solicitors in 2018, following a recommendation from someone already working at the firm.
After he arrived late for the interview, he subsequently left the room for around 10 minutes, during which the woman sent messages to friends that she ‘felt scared’ and that Nwosu had ‘repeatedly’ told her how beautiful she was. She later reported feeling ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘objectified’ after being asked her to move her chair towards his so she could see his desktop computer. He leant forward in his chair and said: ‘you’re very pretty, you’re very beautiful’. He then asked if she had a boyfriend and explained he needed ‘to know everything about a person who comes to work at the firm’.
She later turned down the job, explaining to Nwosu this was ‘in no small part due to the unprofessional conduct displayed throughout the interview’, and reported the matter to the SRA.
In cross-examination, Nwosu’s representative suggested she was not telling the truth, she had misunderstood what had taken place during the interview and she was motivated by other matters. It was put to her that she had a ‘proper interest’ in the physical and sexual abuse of women and that given her experience and tenacity she ‘would not have tolerated it’ if Nwosu had acted in the way that was alleged. She rejected that suggestion and stated she was scared and shocked during the interview.
In his evidence, Nwosu said his ‘I like what I see’ comment was in relation to the woman’s CV and submitted the allegations were malicious and due to her being upset at the salary offered.
The tribunal said it was ‘deeply concerned’ at the comments and questions asked by Nwosu and concluded his conduct was a ‘grave departure’ from that expected of a solicitor. He was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £23,500 costs.