...they go for walks.
An HR manager at a top City firm warned a gay associate that going for walks with his gay colleague was 'not a good look' and could damage their careers, RollOnFriday has learned.
RollOnFriday is not naming the firm at the request of one of the lawyers in order to protect his identity.
After the friends went for a walk at lunchtime round Lincoln's Inn in 2016, an HR manager organised a meeting with the junior associate, 'Walker'.
The intended purpose of the meeting was to discuss the grief counselling the lawyer was receiving after a death in his family.
However, instead of a check-up, the HR manager questioned Walker about a partnership application being made by the gay senior associate with whom he was friends, and asked Walker for negative feedback.
When Walker refused to criticise his colleague, the HR manager allegedly told him, "From where I’m sitting it’s not looking good. You are both gay and go for walks in the park together".
"And it’s lonely at the top”, she added, apparently implying that partners - or perhaps just gay ones - needed to lead a solitary life.
When Walker told the senior associate what had occurred, he challenged the HR manager and made a complaint.
"She initially denied it, but then repeated the same statements again directly to him", Walker told RollOnFriday. "Seemingly still not understanding that they were homophobic."
To compound matters, said Walker, the senior partner in his team "took me into an empty office and bollocked me for having told [the senior associate] what happened", said Walker.
"She was very cross and upset" that the Managing Partner had learned of the incident, said Walker, and "told me not to report issues to HR regarding further inappropriate comments made by a trainee".
When the senior associate was made up to the partnership he dropped his complaint. But Walker, who left and is now a partner at another, boutique, City firm, brought his own grievance.
In response, the firm instructed another firm to conduct an investigation into the matter. Walker has branded its findings "a whitewash".
The report concluded in December 2020 that "the clear view of everyone we spoke to was that the person who made the remark did not have any homophobic intent but had expressed herself clumsily".
It conceded that "in hindsight", a "training need around the use of language may have been missed with the individual who made the remark at the time".
However, it considered that the firm "now has in place appropriate policies, procedures and personnel to deal with such a situation if it were to arise today".
The HR manager is no longer at the firm, RollOnFriday understands, but Walker was unconvinced things had changed. "There is only one out gay male partner in the partnership. Statistically there should be far more", he said. "The firm pays lip service to the issue but there is no real appetite to root out homophobia if it involves rainmakers who bring in lots of money".