Baker McKenzie's Brussels head steps aside pending completion of review into office discrimination claims

Review follows allegations by former lawyer she was subject to multiple instances of discrimination

Baker McKenzie’s Brussels managing partner has temporarily stepped down while the global giant conducts a ‘thorough review’ into a former lawyer’s allegations she was subject to multiple instances of discrimination during her time working at the firm.

Bakers confirmed today that Daniel Fesler has stepped aside from the role pending completion of the review, which came to light on Tuesday when Legal Cheek published extracts of an email the lawyer sent to colleagues explaining why she had left the firm. 

The lawyer, who asked not to be 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 labelled ‘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. 

In a statement, Kirsty Wilson, a member of the firm’s executive committee and chair of its global inclusion, diversity and equity committee, said: ‘We are very sorry and sincerely regret that this individual, and any colleague, has had this experience. We do not tolerate racism, sexism or any form of discrimination, and we take the issues raised in our former colleague's email extremely seriously.’

Wilson said the firm had had ‘detailed and constructive discussions’ with the lawyer as well as ‘colleagues across our Belgian offices’.

She pledged to review channels for reporting inappropriate behaviour and to expand the firm’s efforts to ‘create a respectful workplace and culture, consistent with the firm’s values of inclusion, diversity and equity’.

The statement concluded: ‘We are absolutely committed to continue building a positive, respectful and truly inclusive culture that lives up to our values as a firm and where all of our people feel they belong. We will do better, and this includes making any changes needed so that all of our people can thrive.’

In September last year, Bakers began negotiating a split with the high-profile head of its Gulf arm, Dr Habib Al Mulla, following controversy over a Twitter thread in which he expressed anti-gay views, and in May it unveiled a new management team at its Johannesburg arm as part of a plan to address management issues there. 

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