Baker McKenzie has been taken to court by a junior solicitor who claimed that her supervising partner told her a story about his "f***buddy" during a performance review, and announced at a staff party that he would not work with women if he could avoid it.
The victim, a banking and finance lawyer whom RollOnFriday shall call 'Zarlik', joined Baker McKenzie's Istanbul office in 2012. The firm fired her in 2014 after, she said, a campaign of harassment orchestrated by the head of her team to make her quit. Because he was not identified in public court documents, RollOnFriday will refer to the partner as 'Mergen'.
The Istanbul court heard that Mergen told Zarlik at her annual review that he was awarding her 2/5 for an element of her performance because she said 'no' to him too often. “Since you would like to know me", he said, "let me tell you an anecdote about my personal life". He then told her that one Friday night in his university days he invited over a "sex partner" (he denied using the term "fuck buddy"), but because the woman responded “we’ll see”, he refused to acknowledge her when she kept the appointment, "because nobody can tell me 'no' or 'we’ll see''".
At a staff dinner Mergen announced the name of Zarlik's old firm and said he was “sick" of its"ferocious women”. He continued that he "did not like or wish to work with women", that "women became brutal" in management positions and that "he would not work with women if he could".
|'Mergen' (identity obscured for legal reasons.)|
Bakers argued that it should not be a defendant because it was insufficiently linked to its local member firm at which Mergen worked. But the Turkish court rejected its attempt to distance itself from the disagreeable Turk. It ruled that Mergen's behaviour was "unsuitable, harassing and degrading" and referred the case to a lower court to assess damages. It rejected Zarlik's claim that Bakers staff had 'mobbed' her (the Turkish crime of group bullying).
Specifying that his statement should be attributed to 'Baker McKenzie local affiliate Esin Attorney Partnership', and not 'Baker McKenzie' which is totally different actually and would honestly struggle to point to Turkey on a map, a spokesman said, "This Turkish court case relating to a matter in 2014 was about mobbing, not sexual harassment. The higher court's decision confirmed there was no sexual harassment, no mobbing and no gender discrimination involved. Its decision refers the question of inappropriate behaviour – such as inappropriate personal anecdotes and bad language by a local partner - back to the court of first instance".
He said, "We took this matter very seriously at the time and conducted an internal investigation. We found some general statements and anecdotes made by the partner to be inappropriate. Strong remedial measures were imposed as we do not tolerate inappropriate behaviour. It has been dealt with in an entirely open and transparent manner, and does not involve any non-disclosure agreements, or any financial settlements of any kind".
The firm declined to describe the sanctions it imposed on the partner. The news comes during a growing scandal at Bakers after the firm covered up a sexual assault committed by a senior partner, revealed by RollOnFriday in January.