The former head of global legal giant Baker McKenzie’s London office is facing prosecution for alleged sexual harassment, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said today.
Gary Senior, who left the firm last year, has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) to face allegations he “behaved in an inappropriate manner towards Person A”.
In 2012 Senior is alleged to have “sought to initiate intimate activity with Person A” in circumstances where he was in a position of responsibility over Person A and had knowingly caused Person A to be alone with him.
Senior allegedly told Person A he was attracted to her, attempted to embrace and kiss Person A and persisted in such conduct despite Person A indicating that it was not appropriate.
Senior also allegedly used his seniority within the firm to influence the investigation into the incident and to prevent information being shared within the firm as to the nature and outcome of the complaint by Person A about his conduct.
The SRA is also referring Baker McKenzie, its former London head of HR Martin Blackburn and former disputes partner Tom Cassels to the SDT in relation to the investigation into the alleged sexual harassment.
Blackburn is now UK people director at audit firm KPMG and Cassels is a partner in the London office of Magic Circle law firm Linklaters.
Baker McKenzie is accused of allowing Senior to influence the investigation into the alleged incident, failing to properly investigate the complaint and failing to share information about the nature and outcome of the complaint within the firm.
The law firm is also accused of failing to report to the SRA between 2012 and 2018 the allegations about serious misconduct by a regulated person (Senior).
Cassels and Blackburn led the internal investigation at the firm and are accused of allowing Senior to influence its conduct and outcome.
They are also accused of allowing communications to be made with Person A to the effect that the firm’s investigation had been made independently without the influence of Senior.
A spokesperson for Senior said: “He denies all the allegations and will defend vigorously against them”
In a statement Baker McKenzie said:
“As we have previously disclosed, we have been co-operating fully with the SRA since the beginning of this process last year, including sharing with them in September the full findings of the report we commissioned into the 2012 incident which was carried out last year in conjunction with the law firm Simmons & Simmons. It was that report which brought to light the full extent to which our internal processes fell short of what should be expected and were undermined in a way that was unacceptable and should never have happened.
“As we said last September both publicly and privately to the SRA, we fully accept there were significant shortcomings in the procedures that we followed in 2012 and subsequently. This is something which we very much regret. We could and should have done much better in handling the issue at the time and subsequently, and we have since introduced and reinforced robust processes to ensure these shortcomings can never be repeated.
As a result of our review of the incident from which we are determined to learn and improve, we have enhanced our internal due diligence processes, including around the way we vet candidates for promotion in the firm. We have also taken steps to encourage a ‘speak up ‘ culture across the firm. We are confident that these changes will prevent something like this from ever happening again.”
In a statement Linklaters said: “We note the SRA’s decision to refer this matter to the SDT and Tom has the firm’s full support. Tom is a hugely respected and distinguished lawyer who, since joining us in 2016, has become a trusted and valued partner. He has a long track record of championing diversity initiatives, including our own internal ‘He for She’ campaign and as a mentor for the 30 per cent Club.”
A KPMG spokesperson said: “We are aware of an investigation by the SRA. This relates to an individual’s previous employment at a law firm and therefore we will not comment further.”
All allegations are subject to a hearing before the SDT and are as yet unproven.