12 Jun 2020

Baker McKenzie cleared over handling of sexual misconduct allegation against ex-London head

Tribunal fines Gary Senior £55k for serious misconduct over attempted kiss but finds case against firm 'not proved'

Baker McKenzie office

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A tribunal has cleared Baker McKenzie of mishandling an investigation into the behaviour of its then London managing partner, Gary Senior, in 2012.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) went on to fine Gary Senior £55,000 with £40,000 costs awarded against him after ruling that he had attempted to embrace and kiss a junior fee earner — Person A — against her wishes in a hotel room and had sought to improperly influence the subsequent investigation.

In a statement, Bakers said it was pleased that no finding of professional misconduct had been made against it, adding: “We are a different firm from a decade ago with new leadership, an enhanced purpose and a commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

Former partner Tom Cassels, now a partner at Linklaters, and former head of HR Martin Blackburn were also cleared of any wrongdoing for their roles overseeing the investigation.

The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority had referred the case to the SDT in July 2019, details of of the incident in question having first become public in February 2018 following a report by news site Rollonfriday.com.

The subsequent hearing, which began in December, was widely reported in the UK legal and national press.

Senior had been accused of ‘knowingly causing Person A’  to be alone with him in his hotel room after attending a university recruitment event organised by the firm with her and others and then 'attempting to embrace and kiss Person A' without her consent and persisting with the conduct.

He was also accused of using his position of seniority to both influence the investigation and its outcome.

In a statement following the tribunal’s findings, Senior said: “I bitterly regret what happened in 2012. The matter was not covered up by the firm in 2012. An investigation was carried out by the firm involving a number of senior partners.

“At the time I believed I behaved appropriately in that investigation while cooperating with them and no comment to the contrary was made to me by those conducting the process.”

He added that he wouldn’t comment further until he had read the judgment, which will be published in the coming weeks.

The accusation against Bakers included that it had allowed Senior to improperly ‘influence or seek to influence’ the conduct and outcome of the investigation ‘by reason of his position of seniority within the firm’.

The SRA had also alleged that the firm had failed to ‘effectively or independently’ investigate the complaint against Senior.

In its statement the firm pointed to “the actions we have taken and policies we have introduced that ensure that all of our people, regardless of seniority, feel empowered to call out wrong or inappropriate behaviour”.

It added: “Following this incident, we have also enhanced our internal policies, including around corporate governance. Something like this must never happen again.”

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