Legal Business Blogs

#MeToo: HSF latest firm to axe partner after sexual harassment allegations

The string of sexual harassment scandals that are blighting the legal profession shows no sign of stopping, with Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) becoming the latest firm to fire a partner following claims of workplace misconduct.

An unnamed male partner based in Australia was suspended from the partnership on 9 March, after an internal investigation discovered evidence of misconduct. The investigation came after a number of female employees of the firm made claims of sexual harassment. HSF will remove the partner from the partnership on 23 March.

HSF said in a statement: ‘In the past two weeks several people have come forward to make a number of allegations about the partner’s behaviour. Herbert Smith Freehills is taking them very seriously and has acted promptly. The misconduct is behaviour for which Herbert Smith Freehills has no tolerance.’

Mark Rigotti, HSF chief executive, commented: ‘We will not accept behaviour that violates a person’s dignity or erodes their self-respect. As custodians of the business, the partnership in particular must live and breathe our values and do all they can to ensure that all our team members enjoy an open, inclusive and supportive working environment that encourages them to thrive and enables them to be their whole, true selves at work and outside work.

‘On a personal level, I am deeply disappointed to hear how the behaviour of this person has impacted others at our firm. Every one of our people deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and the action we are taking should highlight the importance of this.’

The news comes in the same week as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) issued a warning to firms to combat the misuse of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). The SRA stipulated that NDAs are improperly used if they seek to prevent a person from reporting misconduct to the police or other prosecution or regulatory body.

In recent months, multiple firms have been caught up in sexual harassment controversies. Baker McKenzie last month issued a review of complaints handling, following a historic allegation of sexual assault against a high-ranking partner at the firm. In Germany, former Linklaters partner Thomas Elser was sentenced to three years and three months in prison by a court in Munich for assaulting a student at a firm party several years ago. While a former Scottish partner left Dentons in February after the firm launched an internal investigation into allegations of past inappropriate sexual behaviour.