The Solicitors Regulation Authority is still investigating Freshfields employment litigation partner Caroline Stroud over her handling of a review into processes related to a former UBS employee's allegations that she was raped by one of the bank's directors, over a year after the regulator's investigation began.
It has now emerged that the former UBS graduate trainee secretly recorded a potentially pivotal meeting with the partner.
The woman, known only as 'Ms A' for legal reasons, alleged that she woke up the morning after a UBS work drinks event in September 2017 in the house of a senior UBS colleague with no memory of how she got there, and believed she had been raped by him.
Ms A complained to UBS that when she reported the incident to it, the bank took three weeks to move the alleged perpetrator, 'X', from his position three rows away from her, leaving her scared to use the lift or the bathroom in case she became trapped in a corridor with him. She also highlighted a number of other issues with UBS's procedures around her complaint, including how HR monitored her movements and compelled her fellow graduates to hand over their mobile phones so UBS could check her messages to them.
X left the firm after being suspended and a criminal case is ongoing.
Stroud, who at the time was Freshfields’ Global HR Partner and head of its Global employment team, was instructed by UBS in August 2018 to conduct an 'independent review' into the manner in which the bank investigated the former graduate trainee's complaints. It concluded two months later that the bank had made no “fundamental errors”, although it did suggest areas for improvement.
Ms A subsequently made an employment tribunal claim against UBS in 2019 for sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimisation as a result of whistleblowing.
These days firms are stricter on checking for wires.
During the proceedings, Ms A alleged that Stroud misled her on a number of fronts during an initial meeting to discuss what Freshfields would need from her for its report. Although Stroud explained to Ms A that Freshfields was being paid by the bank to undertake the independent report, Ms A alleged that the Freshfields partner wrongly told her that the firm did not act for UBS, and that Freshfields was not advising the bank.
Ms A, who was not legally represented at the time, also claimed that Stroud failed to properly explain to her that the final report would be a privileged document which she would not be allowed to see. The final version was circulated within UBS to at least a dozen employees including the Head of Brand and Communications, while Ms A was told she could only see a two-page executive summary.
Midway through her case, she revealed that she had recorded her initial conversation with Stroud, and produced a transcript in which Stroud is shown to have told her "We're not their lawyers".
Stroud contested Ms A's account of the meeting, arguing that Ms A had taken quotes out of context which were capable of being misinterpreted. Stroud explained that she had said of her team that "we're not their lawyers" because they were "newly appointed lawyers from Freshfields and not UBS's normal advisors".
An employment judge ruled that Freshfields' report was not legally privileged, and the bank chose to settle Ms A's claim, RollOnFriday understands. UBS did not respond to a request for comment.
An SRA spokesperson said, “We do not usually confirm or deny if we are investigating a complaint, it is only if action is necessary that it becomes a matter of public record”.
Freshfields and Ms A declined to comment.
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