In an attempt to do the right thing by investigating claims of sexual harassment made by trainees against a partner, Reed Smith passed the personal details of one of the alleged victims to the Solicitors Regulation Authority despite assuring her that she would remain anonymous.
Last week RollOnFriday revealed that Reed Smith dismissed a partner, 'P’, for sexually harassing a trainee. It subsequently emerged that there was a second alleged victim. RollOnFriday can now reveal that Reed Smith’s questionable handling of the matter led to one of the alleged victims suing the firm.
Reed Smith commenced an investigation into P after a trainee, ‘FT’, complained that he had harassed her. A Reed Smith lawyer became aware of FT’s allegation against P and informed the firm that a second trainee, 'ST', had confided in her that she had also been sexually harassed by P, after a work function.
Reed Smith approached ST, who by that time had left the firm, and requested an interview. Because she was unwilling to be involved in any further proceedings and did not wish to have her personal details disseminated, a source told RollOnFriday, Reed Smith agreed with her in advance that her identity would be kept strictly confidential as a condition of her participation.
However, after conducting the interview, it submitted a report to the SRA which disclosed ST’s name and other personal details, opening up the possibility that she will be compelled to participate in an SRA investigation. Reed Smith did manage to redact embarrassing information about itself, specifically the name of another Reed Smith partner accused of sexual harassment.
In a remarkable slip-up, it appears that Reed Smith accidentally made the fact that P was under investigation available to anyone in the firm. High-level meetings were scheduled in the firm's freely-available intranet calendar with the title “Meeting to discuss [P's] and [another partner's] future’, said an insider.
ST subsequently sued Reed Smith on various grounds including breach of confidentiality. But the firm defended the claim and she was forced to discontinue her action for want of funds.
P was allowed to leave quietly and is now a partner at another firm. However he is still being investigated by the SRA. A spokesman for the regulator told RollOnFriday, "We can confirm we are investigating before deciding on next steps". P did not respond to requests for comment.
Tamara Box, Reed Smith's Managing Partner in Europe & Middle East, said, "We do not tolerate harassment in any form at Reed Smith. We carried out our internal investigation fully and properly as soon as we became aware of this incident, and we are confident that we took all appropriate actions. In dealing with this sensitive matter we owe duties both to our people, who are always our paramount concern, as well as to our regulator. The SRA is empowered to police these issues and has statutory powers to require disclosure. This can lead to complex situations, which in this case we sought to manage in the best way possible whilst of course fully complying with our regulatory obligations.”