A female associate propositioned by her boss in a hotel room has described feeling ‘cast aside’ by her firm when he was allowed to remain in post and she decided to leave.
'Person A' told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal today that she had ‘grave’ concerns about returning to work at international firm Baker McKenzie after the alleged incident involving London managing partner Gary Senior in February 2012.
For Senior, Gregory Treverton-Jones QC said his client accepted he acted in an ‘inappropriate fashion’ after the pair returned to the hotel with three colleagues following a night out, although Senior said there are ‘differences of recollection’ about exactly what happened.
Person A, giving evidence today from behind a screen, confirmed she met with representatives of the firm within days of the incident and was ‘repeatedly’ asked if she would accept an apology from Senior and assurances about her future at the firm.
She described these meetings as ‘horrible’ and ‘intimidating’ and said the aim of the meeting was not conciliatory.
After a short leave of absence in the days following the hotel incident, Person A felt the firm’s offer for her to return were ‘hollow’ and ‘without anything concrete or substantive to back it up’.
She told the tribunal: ‘My impression has not changed over the years. Particularly at that time I felt disappointed with the outcome that Mr Senior was staying, although I was not surprised. Seven and a half years ago things were very different and they had concluded it would be disproportionate for him to leave.
‘I couldn’t possibly imagine how I could see myself staying at the firm and going about my day-to-day work life and knowing there were a lot of senior people in the firm who knew what had happened.’
Person A said it was left to her at HR meetings to suggest ways in which she could feel comfortable returning to work, and while she received ‘numerous’ offers of a face-to-face meeting with Senior, she had no practical ideas from the firm as to how she could avoid bumping into him at work. She felt worried about increasing numbers of staff at the firm knowing, and by the time the parties discussed drawing up a non-disclosure agreement ‘an awful lot of people’ were aware what had gone on.
She admitted she had approached meetings about her return cynically but said she did not believe offers to reintegrate her at the firm were ‘genuine’.
‘My feeling at the time was I was cast aside. I didn’t feel I was as important to the firm as protecting its own reputation and Mr Senior. The whole situation was quite sad for everyone involved.’
Patricia Roberton QC, for Baker McKenzie, said Person A was looked after by her mentor and head of her department, who stayed in contact with her before and after her departure and would later write her a glowing reference. Roberton said there was no pressure on her to meet with Senior after the incident, and the firm was concerned at all times for Person A’s wellbeing.
Earlier, the tribunal heard Person A's account of what happened during the incident itself, when Senior asked Person A to stay in his room while other colleagues left. It was put to her that he did not ask in an authoritative way, to which she responded: ‘He was the managing partner. The authority is implied.’
The tribunal heard that when the pair were alone, Senior paid her a compliment on her appearance and asked for a hug, then moved in to kiss her. She said she turned away at this point, which Senior disputes, and he kissed her on the neck. Her phone then started ringing and she felt ‘quite relieved’, adding the whole time she was thinking ‘how am I going to extract myself from the situation’.
When she said it was likely to be her boyfriend calling, he stepped back and said ‘don’t answer it, stay and we will talk about your boyfriend’. Senior’s lawyer said he did not recall that exchange. Person A said the two were alone for two or three minutes, whereas Senior says it was more like a minute, before the group returned.
Treverton-Jones said Senior accepts he would have touched Person A but did not accept he gripped her.
Senior, who was admitted in 1986, is accused of trying to embrace and kiss ‘Person A’ in 2012 despite receiving no indication of consent, and persisting despite Person A indicating that it was not appropriate. Senior, who last year left Baker McKenzie, allegedly acted knowing he was in a position of authority and responsibility.
Thomas Kennedy Cassels and Martin Lawrence Blackburn, who were with Baker McKenzie in 2012 as a partner and head of HR respectively, are being prosecuted in relation to the investigation which began when Person A made a complaint about Senior the following Monday. The firm is also being prosecuted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
A spokesperson for Baker McKenzie said: ‘We have been co-operating fully with the SRA since the beginning of this process last year. In September 2018, we shared with the SRA the findings of the report we commissioned into the 2012 incident which was carried out in conjunction with the law firm Simmons & Simmons. We’ve learned much from this episode, recognised what went wrong and have well-established and effective policies and programmes in place across the firm.’
The tribunal hearing continues.