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‘Ongoing struggle’: Linklaters shuts down former director going public with concerns over firm culture

Linklaters has been granted an interim injunction against a former director of business development and marketing seeking to raise his concerns over the firm’s ‘current culture’ in ‘interviews for publication’.

In a High Court ruling yesterday (5 February), Mr Justice Warby restrained the firm’s former executive committee member Frank Mellish from sharing information highlighting what the former employee described as ‘the ongoing struggle Linklaters has with women in the workplace’ until a further hearing on Monday (11 February).

The Magic Circle firm sought an injunction on the basis that the disclosures would be a breach of confidence and Mellish’s contract included an obligation of confidentiality over the information obtained during his work. According to the judgment, Mellish intended to disclose details around three specific events, called the ‘Munich incident, the NY Settlement and the London Settlement’.

Linklaters hired Mellish from Deloitte Australia in March 2017, but he was given six months’ notice in June 2018. The contract termination included a ‘substantial additional sum…ex gratia’, according to Warby J’s ruling.

After receiving his final payment last month, he emailed Linklaters senior partner Charlie Jacobs and managing partner Gideon Moore to express his concern that given his age, the termination of his employment was effectively the end of his career, despite acknowledging that the terms on which his employment had been ended were lawful.

The email then said he intended to ‘share my impressions of the current culture at Linklaters’ and the firm’s struggle with women in the workplace in interviews during the first two weeks of February. Linklaters then applied to prevent the disclosure of this information, including the identity of a former partner who was the subject of complaints by another staff member. The decision also refers to an unspecified number of other people against whom complaints were made, and prevents the disclosure of the identity of the female complainant in the Munich incident and a complainant in the NY settlement.

While Linklaters did not seek to restrain Mellish from sharing in general terms his impressions of the firm’s current culture, it also applied to prevent Mellish from disclosing any detail on its internal discussions over any public response to questions raised from the three named incidents.

Mellish was not represented nor did he appear in court, while Linklaters instructed Andrew Caldecott QC and Aidan Eardley of One Brick Court. A spokesperson for Linklaters said: ‘We can confirm that the firm sought and has been granted an interim injunction in the terms set out in the judgment handed down by the court. We cannot comment further.’

Linklaters has already been subject to the increased scrutiny over sexual misconduct that emerged in the wake of the #MeToo movement. A year ago a Munich court sentenced a former partner to three years and three months in prison for sexually assaulting a student at an Oktoberfest party in September 2014.

Firms to see partners leave following complaints of inappropriate behaviour include Baker McKenzie, Reed Smith, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Latham & Watkins, Herbert Smith Freehills and Dentons.