Baker McKenzie's Belgium head departs as firm completes review into Brussels office discrimination claims
Global giant to assemble new management team after allegations surfaced in email from departing lawyer to colleagues
Baker McKenzie's Belgium managing partner, Daniel Fesler, is leaving following the conclusion of a review by the firm into a former lawyer’s allegations she was subject to multiple instances of discrimination while working in the Brussels office.
The firm said today it was “incredibly sorry” about the former lawyer's experiences, which came to light when extracts of an email she sent to colleagues complaining of discrimination were published by Legal Cheek.
The firm said it had taken “appropriate action” where it was possible to identify individuals and was establishing new leadership.
Kirsty Wilson, a member of Baker McKenzie’s executive committee and its global inclusion, diversity & equity committee chair, said in a statement that "a new management team will take our Belgium offices forward” and “as part of this, we have agreed with Daniel Fesler that he will permanently step down from the role of managing partner and leave the firm. We thank him for his service and commitment to clients over the past 30 years.”
Fesler, an IP and IT law specialist, had already stepped down from the managing partner role pending completion of the review which was sparked at the end of January when Legal Cheek published extracts of an email the lawyer sent to colleagues explaining why she had left the firm.
Wilson said: “We have completed a thorough review of the incidents and broader issues raised in our former colleague's email. Where we were able to identify individuals responsible for specific incidents, appropriate action has been taken. We are incredibly sorry and sincerely regret that our former Belgium colleague, or any colleague, has had this experience.”
In her email the lawyer, who was not named, shared experiences that included being subjected to racial slurs, unwanted hair touching and being asked if a family photo was a rap album cover, according to Legal Cheek.
She also alleged experiencing sexism, including being asked by a senior colleague when she was going to have another child.
‘I have come to a point today where my mental health can no longer tolerate what it has been tolerating for the past years,’ the lawyer is reported to have written, adding that she had been reluctant to speak out about these experiences for fear of being labeled ‘the angry black woman’.
The lawyer nevertheless wrote she was ‘very happy to have had the chance to start my career at Baker McKenzie’ and was departing ‘with no bad feeling at all’, Legal Cheek reported.
The controversy comes after Bakers implemented a ‘three-step plan’ to address management issues in its Johannesburg office in 2021 that included a change in leadership and measures to make it easier for staff to raise confidential concerns about their treatment.
And in September last year, Bakers began negotiating a split with the high-profile head of its Gulf arm, Dr Habib Al Mulla, over a Twitter thread in which he expressed anti-gay views.