Linklaters has won an injunction limiting what its former director of Business Development and Marketing can tell the press about behind-the-scenes 'Incidents' involving women at the firm.
The firm's decision to seek to gag Frank Mellish, who sat on Linklaters' executive committee and was party to top level discussions, came after he emailed senior partners on 23 January warning them that he intended to "share my impressions of the current culture at Linklaters" with the media in a series of interviews he intended to grant in February. They would have focused on the "ongoing struggle Linklaters has with women in the workplace".
Mellish issued his threat after Linklaters terminated his role last year after just over 12 months in the job. Mr Justice Warby's order, handed down in the RCJ on 31 January after an urgent application by Linklaters, reveals that Mellish told partners he was dissatisfied with being dismissed and would highlight three matters in his interviews with the press. Warby J referred to them in the judgment as the 'Munich Incident', the 'NY Settlement' and the 'London Settlement'.
The Munich Settlement almost certainly refers to the disastrous 2014 Linklaters Oktoberfest party at which a student was sexually assaulted by a Linklaters partner, 'Thomas E', who was caught in the act by another partner who punched him in the face. This week Thomas E lost his appeal against his conviction for sexual assault after the court dismissed his argument that the sexual acts were consensual, and rejected his demands for a polygraph test. Linklaters' injunction prevents Mellish from disclosing the identity of Thomas E's victim.
The stories behind the NY Settlement and the London Settlement are not in the public domain, but the injunction gives the gist. The section dealing with the NY Settlement restrains Mellish from revealing the identity of a Linklaters' staff member "and those about whose conduct they complained", along with "two other categories of information". The section addressing the London Settlement prevents him from disclosing the identity of a Linklaters staff member and "those about whom they made complaints", including "a former Linklaters partner".
Warby J said that Linklaters accepted that there was "a legitimate public interest in the due performance by large firms such as Linklaters of their social and moral duties towards their staff". But, he said, that did not "justify indiscriminate disclosure of otherwise sensitive confidential information".
It seems unlikely that Mellish would be so rash as to have been intending to disclose the identities of victims of alleged sexual assault (or, risk defamation proceedings by disclosing the identities of alleged perpetrators). But Linklaters may have felt that, having been forewarned, it could not risk doing nothing. And its successful application also happens to prevent Mellish from disclosing "any detail as to the internal discussions within Linklaters as to their public response to any third party interest or questions in relation to any of the above matters". Which neatly keeps Mellish from characterising for the enjoyment of the press certain sensitive, high-level conversations to which he may have been party.
Linklaters' battle to protect its reputation from its own former chief of reputation is not over, however. The injunction does not prevent Mellish from discussing "in general terms" his impressions of the current culture at Linklaters. It is also only an interim measure, and is set for review on 11 February. In the meantime, it does require him to 'fess up the names of any reporters with whom he shared information which is now protected.
A spokesman for Linklaters said, “We can confirm that the firm sought and has been granted an interim injunction in the terms set out in the judgment handed down by the court. We cannot comment further”.
Mellish has said nothing, yet. He was not at the hearing and is thought to be in France. Meanwhile, a source who worked in the firm's Munich office in the aftermath of the Munich Incident told RollOnFriday that an unofficial injunction was put in place there. "Stonewall of silence about the issue erected", they said. "No one in the office allowed to talk about it. German hierarchy in full effect."