A barrister set for court.
Baker McKenzie has terminated a lawyer’s employment after discovering that he has been accused of sexual misconduct by a colleague at his former firm.
Stefano Mariani is due in court in Hong Kong to face allegations by a junior lawyer that he coercively controlled and sexually assaulted her while they both worked at Deacons, a Hong Kong law firm where he was a partner and head of tax.
‘X’ claimed that Mariani used his collection of Japanese swords to lure her to his home where he assaulted her, and that he boasted he had once microwaved a hamster.
Mariani, who began his legal career in Jersey with offshore firm Carey Olsen before working as a tax barrister at 11 New Square, joined Bakers as a tax dispute counsel in June after leaving Deacons.
A legal high flier in the region, he has written frequently for the South China Morning Post and lectured at Hong Kong University. Originally from Rome, in 2005 he was part of Corpus Christi's University Challenge-winning team.
In her claim, X has alleged that Mariani positioned himself as her mentor when she joined Deacons in 2020 after completing university.
The senior lawyer led her to believe that the relationship was innocuous and told her that it would benefit her career if she was "on the radar" of a Deacons partner, according to the claim.
Mariani began gaslighting her when he invited her to drinks at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and told her how "disgusting" her socks were when she arrived, X alleged.
The aim was to “coerce and control her and leave her with a feeling of inferiority in his presence”, which led to direct sexual harassment in 2021 when the pair were having cocktails together at the Foxglove bar in Hong Kong, she claimed.
Mariani placed his hand on hers “suddenly” and said that "It's apparent there are feelings here”, claimed X.
When she replied, "Even if there were feelings, there's nothing to see here", he came round to her side of the table despite her protestations, physically turned her head “and forcibly kissed her” before telling her "Sorry, that was a bit forceful, wasn't it?", according to X.
On the way back to the office he told her, "No one needs to find out about this", which made her “feel like she was now part of a dirty secret and that she needed to accept blame for the incident”, according to X’s claim.
A few weeks later he invited her to his house on the pretext of allowing her “to see his collection of Japanese swords”, then undressed her “without warning” and carried her to his bed where he “forcibly performed oral sex on her”, X alleged.
X’s claim conceded that she then entered into a sexual relationship with Mariani, but stated that “it would be difficult and problematic” to describe it as “entirely consensual”, because at the time X was “very much in the thrall” of the partner, who had “gaslit her with micro-criticisms, self-doubt and descriptions of his power over a number of months”.
Examples provided by X included allegedly telling her that she "had the body of a 16-year-old'' and saying of a female trainee solicitor, "It's clear that she has a crush on me”.
Echoing one of Oliver Bretherton’s office games at Gowling WLG, Mariani allegedly “took great enjoyment” in telling X how he and his colleagues at Deacons would discuss which females in their department they would sleep with.
Mariani’s “vulgar remarks about fellow colleagues” allegedly included telling X that he would “much rather” sleep with another employee “even though she probably weighs 40 kg dripping wet" and observing that another employee had “such huge breasts as a result of breastfeeding”, as well mocking the colour of Asian women’s nipples.
The partner “appeared to relish the fact that he had a horrible temper and would often lash out at his secretaries”, even commenting “gleefully how his female boss seemed to appear very threatened in his presence”, according to X's claim.
He also told X that “When he was younger, he once put a hamster in a microwave to see what would happen”, according to her claim.
Mariani presented himself as being involved with the management of Deacons, which enabled him to exercise greater influence and control over X, according to her claim.
He boasted that he could help her pass her tests at Deacons because he was one of the examiners, falsely told her that he did the firm's taxes so could find out her salary when she refused to tell him, and claimed that he had been singled out by the senior partner for a toast at a firmwide gathering, according to X's claim.
X also alleged that Mariani committed sexual acts intended to humiliate and demean her, including hitting her with a belt. and that when doing so he would make statements such as, "It seems all you women like to be treated very violently".
Gaslit into believing that his behaviour was normal and that if she didn’t consent “he would retaliate and damage or ruin her ability to continue working in the legal field”, she “allowed the so-called 'relationship’, subserviently pleasing [Mariani] and remaining polite and encouraging in conversation”, her claim alleged.
“This was her first real job after graduating from university, and so [she] had little exposure as to what a proper corporate work culture should or should not entail”, stated the claim.
It also alleged that Mariani compelled X to engage in anal sex after she contracted HPV and was told by her doctor not to engage in vaginal intercourse.
“He did not ask for consent, and he never asked or checked if she was comfortable with what he was doing”, alleged the claim.
Instead “he whispered in her ear ‘Now I can take your last virginity’” and “showed no compassion and encouraged [X] to drink a large amount of red wine” after the act, alleged the claim.
The junior lawyer said she ended their relationship in early 2023 and reported Mariani’s conduct to Deacons, which after investigating asked him to resign.
X said Deacons had updated its ‘Relationships at Work’ policy as a result of her complaint to specifically state that “coercive and exploitative relationships will not be tolerated under any circumstances”.
She is now suing for a declaration that Mariani engaged in unlawful acts under Hong Kong’s sex discrimination legislation, an apology in writing and for compensation and punitive damages.
RollOnFriday understands that Mariani is leaving Bakers, which declined to comment on the basis that legal proceedings are ongoing.
Deacons did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did Mariani, who deleted his LinkedIn profile after being contacted by RollOnFriday.
The case is scheduled to be heard in December.