Herbert Smith Freehills has confirmed that an Australian partner has been issued a termination notice over over inappropriate workplace behavior.
Sources familiar with the matter and reports by local press, including The Australian Financial Review and The Sydney Morning Herald identified the partner in question as Sydney-based Peter Paradise, who headed up the firm’s projects practice in the Asia Pacific region.
In a statement, the firm said a male partner based in Australia had been suspended from the partnership since March 9 after an investigation found sufficient evidence of workplace misconduct. Herbert Smith Freehills has also informed this partner, whose identity it refused to confirm, of its intention to remove him from the partnership on March 23.
According to sources familiar with the matter, several female employees at the firm had reported to the partnership sexual harassment allegations against Paradise.
“In the past two weeks several people have come forward to make a number of allegations about the partner’s behavior,” the firm said in a statement. “Herbert Smith Freehills is taking them very seriously and has acted promptly. The misconduct is behavior for which Herbert Smith Freehills has no tolerance.”
The global legal giant, formed via a 2012 combination between London-based Herbert Smith and Australia’s Freehills, did not release details of the allegations against Paradise.
Herbert Smith Freehills CEO Mark Rigotti said the firm would not tolerate behavior that contravenes its values, codes and policies. “We will not accept behavior that violates a person’s dignity or erodes their self-respect,” he said in a statement.
“As custodians of the business, the partnership in particular must live and breathe our values and do all they can to ensure that all our team members enjoy an open, inclusive and supportive working environment that encourages them to thrive and enables them to be their whole, true selves at work and outside work,” said Rigotti, adding that he was also deeply disappointed on a personal level at how this partner’s behavior had affected other individuals at the firm.
Rigotti, a legacy Freehills partner, took over as Herbert Smith Freehills’ sole leader in May 2017 when former co-CEO Sonya Leydecker retired from the partnership. Rigotti spoke late last year about the firm’s plans to expand in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
Paradise, who joined Freehills in 2008, has since worked on several large infrastructure projects in Australia and its state of New South Wales, including a $1.5 billion cargo and freight terminal project in Sydney and a $2.67 billion deal to construct tunnels to motorways in the city.
His pending departure from Herbert Smith Freehills comes a week after recently hired Mayer Brown partner James Tanenbaum in New York resigned amid sexual misconduct claims at his former firm, Morrison & Foerster. In New Zealand, leading local firm Russell McVeagh has also been under fire in recent weeks for sexual harassment allegations involving firm personnel. An unidentified lawyer at another large Kiwi firm, Chapman Tripp, was accused this week of having sex with a 19-year-old student at a 2012 law camp.
The so-called #MeToo movement in Big Law is also playing out on Twitter with #LadyLawyerDiaries, a hashtag that collects stories from women lawyers describing their experience with gender bias and sexual harassment in the legal profession.