Employers Must Ensure Victims Have Confidence To Raise Complaints Without Fear Of Retribution
A former junior lawyer has described sexual misconduct as ‘rife’ within large City law firms. The ex-magic circle employee, is amongst members of the public who have made anonymised written submissions to the House of Commons women and equalities select committee as part of its sexual harassment in the workplace inquiry.
The witness alleges that they were sexually assaulted by a Partner whilst they were a junior lawyer in the same team. After reporting the incident internally, the witness claims that it was “clear that the firm was not prepared for, and lacking in the relevant expertise, to deal with a complaint of such a serious nature.” The matter was reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The witness also blames a culture of “excessive consumption of alcohol” for incidents of sexual misconduct at work and work-related events and calls for mandatory sexual harassment policies and acceptable alcohol consumption policies for all firms, especially in large city firms where there is a “particular need”. The use of non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality undertakings was also a source of critique for the witness who said that they felt compelled to sign one.
Further instances of sexual misconduct were included in the submission of a witness assaulted by a colleague who was charged and found guilty of indecent assault following a Crown court trial. The former Crown Prosecution Service employee claims that they were subjected to sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and victim-blaming at work. They were told they had “ruined a young lawyer’s career” and received pornography in the internal post. This type of behavior spanned over a period of 20 years leading the witness to partake in a lengthy grievance procedure whose aim was “not to listen and learn from complaints but to protect the employer”. Given their own experience, the witness suggests that anonymity for victims of sex crimes should be extended to employment tribunals.
Shah Qureshi, Head of Irwin Mitchell’s London Employment and Professional Discipline team, said:
Expert Opinion“The evidence given to the Women and Equalities Committee should come as no surprise. We have already seen gender discrimination and harassment in other sectors such as financial services and media. It is important that employers in the City ensure that the victims of sexual harassment have sufficient trust and confidence to be able to raise complaints without fear of retribution. Otherwise the danger is a discriminatory culture can become embedded in the organisation.” Shah Qureshi - Partner
The submissions are posted on the Committees website and the report is due to be published soon.