Baker McKenzie’s former London managing partner Gary Senior has admitted his behaviour after a firm event in 2012 amounted to sexual harassment towards a junior associate but said he did not believe at the time that his advances were unwanted.
In the third of 15 days of hearings at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), Senior admitted today (4 December) that he tried to kiss a female associate half his age and agreed this behaviour was ‘totally inappropriate and unacceptable for a managing partner’, but denied it was an abuse of his position.
He also disagreed with many details of the incident as described by the associate – referred to as Person A due to reporting restrictions – in her witness statement yesterday, including that he hugged her and persisted in his conduct despite her making clear that it was unwanted.
Asked whether he recognised that his behaviour amounted to a breach of the solicitors’ code of conduct requiring lawyers to act with integrity and uphold public trust in the profession, Senior said he could not remember being familiar with the code at the time: ‘I knew there was a code,’ he said. ‘But those are terms I was not familiar with.’
The case was brought to the SDT by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which in July referred Senior for prosecution for behaving inappropriately towards person A and seeking to initiate intimate activity with her. He is also accused of trying influence the outcome of the initial investigation into the incident and failing to report it to the SRA.
Bakers is also facing prosecution for the events alongside its former litigation partner Tom Cassels and former HR head Martin Blackburn for their roles in leading the initial investigation.
The hearings began on Monday with SRA lead counsel Andrew Tabachnik QC of 39 Essex Chambers accusing the firm of ‘collective failure’ for the way it handled the allegations of sexual misconduct against Senior.
The events in question took place following a firm recruitment event on 23 February 2012. Senior and a small group of people went to a night club and a bar. At around 2am a group of five ended up in Senior’s hotel room.
At about 3am the party broke up, and Senior and Person A were left alone. Person A said this was because Senior had asked her to stay to talk with her about something and she felt compelled to remain given his authority as managing partner.
According to Person A’s version, which she recorded in notes in the days following the incident, Senior hugged her, making her feel uncomfortable, asked her to stay after she said she should go and suggestively looked at his bed, all aspects that Senior denies. Person A also denies giving Senior any indication at any point that his behaviour was not unwanted.
Senior admitted he made a compliment about her appearance and then moved to kiss her on the neck, but said the incident was over in a few seconds as her phone started ringing, she said it was her boyfriend calling and he moved back.
According to a witness the tribunal heard yesterday, the three other people who had left the room leaving Senior and Person A alone waited outside the door for a few minutes and then went back into the room, putting an end to the incident.
A few days later, Person A got in touch with Blackburn to report the event. Cassels, now a partner at Linklaters but then a member of Bakers’ London management committee, was subsequently appointed to lead the investigation into the incident.
Senior said today: ‘I operated in the drinking culture that you find in all big law firms, many examples of partners that are willing to drink late into the night with all sorts of employees. I have done more of that than I should have and as a managing partner I recognise that was an error.’
Tabachnik accused Senior of trying to influence the investigation, which concluded with Person A reaching a settlement and leaving the firm, while Senior stayed at Bakers and later took on the role of EMEA chair. Senior eventually left last year after details of the event had emerged and has since taken up a role at the consultancy Finlay Gardener.
The hearing comes weeks after former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Ryan Beckwith was found guilty of improperly engaging in sexual activity with a junior female colleague and is the latest in a string of similar allegations to hit the profession.
The case continues.