Paralegal Sexually Harassed

In the dying embers of April 2023, the Employment Tribunal located in the East of London decided in favour of a female paralegal who had experienced acts which equated to harassment of a sexual nature in the working environment.  

What Happened In The Case?

The case involved a legal professional employed by a legal services provider in its property department as a paralegal assisting property lawyers on the day-to-day working activities. The relationship had progressed well until an incident in August 2019 when the property lawyer, the paralegal and a client were present on the premises. The lawyer appears to have made a wildly incorrect observation when listening to how the paralegal from the female demographic was interacting with a client. The lawyer had supposedly been watching too many dating programmes in his spare time when he made unprofessional comments to his colleague. During an interaction between the property legal professional and the paralegal, the lawyer was witnessed communicating a belief that the paralegal intended to pursue a relationship of a sexual nature with the client. He appears on the evidence to have unprofessionally and loudly broadcast his views around the business premises. 

To the credit of the paralegal, she remained calm, kept composed and did not respond to the comments. Instead of flying off the proverbial handle at him she professionally and calmly advised him that she was busy carrying out her work-related activities and did not want to engage in conversation with the lawyer. Other persons in the same situation as the male lawyer would have walked away. However, this does not appear to have happened in this case. He seems to have carried on regardless exhibiting this form of loutish behaviour and making his suggestive suggestions alleging that the interaction taking place between the paralegal and the client was in some way intimate. 

In response the paralegal made clear to the lawyer this was not the case and communicated that he had got the wrong end of the stick. However, despite making this clear to him, the lawyer would not give his behaviour towards her a rest. He insisted his view was correct and blamed her. He attempted to justify his course of conduct by claiming that their loud interaction in the office environment had interrupted him whilst he was carrying out his working activities. This was not the end of the matter as he also unprofessionally advised the paralegal that if she did not wear her scarf, which she wore for religious reasons, she would have a higher probability of drawing members of the opposite sex to her. 

Matters deteriorated when the paralegal claimed her withheld payments numerous times and found her employment contract terminated as a result. Another reason provided for the ending of her employment was her six impairments which affected her daily activities. Underlining how poorly the paralegal had been treated the employer had wanted to avoid employing persons affected by illness. The Employment Tribunal reviewed the evidence submitted to it and held the lawyer liable for sexually harassing, unfairly dismissing, discriminating against and violating the written terms of the female paralegal.          

Way Forward?

Legal professionals should learn from this case by: 
-    acting professionally 
-    thinking carefully before indulging in workplace banter
-    realise that different persons may take offence to workplace comments
-    getting on with the job clients pay them for
-    paying wages to staff 
-    not unfairly dismissing staff and 
-    avoiding discriminating against members of the workforce. 
If you have experienced something similar, or have an opposing viewpoint, please kindly leave a comment on the article or contact us.  
#Allen&Overy #BakerMcKenzie #HerbertSmithFreehillsLLP #LewisSilkin #MishcondeReya #Simmons&Simmons #AddleshawGoddard #CliffordChanceLLP #CMS #DACBeachcroftLLP #EvershedsSutherlandLLP #LinklatersLLP #TaylorWessing #TraversSmith #Bird&Bird 



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