Last month I reported the very serious consequences of a Christmas party that got well out of hand and resulted in life changing injuries. Subsequently, reports have emerged of serious misbehaviour by lawyers which have had serious consequences, including the likely curtailment of successful careers.
Legal Cheek has reported that, John Burnand (pictured), a partner in city firm Winckworth Sherwood, resigned after acknowledging that his behaviour was “not acceptable”. It is alleged that he drunkenly groped a number of female employees at a Christmas party at the upmarket Skylon restaurant on 8 December. He is reported to have drunk “far too much” and after the groping incidents he was “escorted out” of the building.
Prior to his resignation Mr Burnand had posted what Legal Cheek describes as “a grovelling apology” in which he stated that he had attended “a business development event prior to the party and had drunk more than [he] should on the day”. He continued:
I am very sorry for offending so many by my conduct. I know that this is not acceptable behaviour and must never happen again. You may rest assured that it never will.
…I hope that you will forgive my conduct on the night, on my assurance that there will be no recurrence and I hope that it did not spoil what I believe was otherwise a very good evening.
Within 24 hours he had resigned. With reference to last month’s discussion about vicarious liability (in this context the potential liability of an employer to its employees for the actions of the partner) it will be interesting to see whether any claims for sex discrimination against Mr Burnand and Winckworth Sherwood follow. Perhaps the firm will take the view that settling claims against those subjected to Mr Burnand’s inappropriate behaviour is the preferred course of action. Mr Burnand still appears as a partner at Winckworth Sherwood in the Legal 500.
The incident follows a notice from The Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service that a Birmingham barrister, John Randall, made sexual advances to an unnamed woman in a bar by repeatedly touching and strolling her thigh without consent. He was fined £2000.
Meanwhile, details have emerged of the conviction of an in-house lawyer with City firm Schroders for racially aggravated and sexual assault. Alastair Main attended a rowing club dinner where he poured beer over a woman’s head and called her “an Australian slut” when she refused to hug him. He then proceeded to follow her into the ladies’ toilets, where he smacked her on her backside five times.
District Judge Barbara Barnes, sitting at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court told Mr Main:
I have to say I did not find you to be a credible or convincing witness.
You admit you were drunk. You admit being at various times angry, upset, confused, apprehensive. Your memory of the events of that night may have been affected by the amount of alcohol you had.
You admit also you followed [the victim] to the ladies’ toilets. I do not find it plausible that this pursuit by you was just an effort to sort things out.
Mr Main claimed that his slapping of the woman’s bottom was “cheeky” and “flirty” and did not constitute sexual assault. He also maintained that he was “not a racist”. Again, the incident took place at a Christmas party. According to The Times (£) Mr Main described himself as “7/10ths drunk” and admitted that he was “behaving like a fool” although he denied the charges.
Mr Main is due to be sentenced on 26 January and the judge has stated that “all options remain open”.