Allen & Overy partner Mark Mansell has been called to appear before a parliamentary committee in the U.K. this week, after it was revealed that the firm played a role in a settlement over claims of sexual harassment made against disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
The 11-member committee, called the Women and Equalities Committee, is investigating the use of nondisclosure agreements relating to allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. It is chaired by Maria Miller, a British Conservative Party politician who has been a member of Parliament since 2005.
A&O was hired by Miramax, which Weinstein co-founded, when the producer’s then-assistant Zelda Perkins accused him of sexual harassment in 1998.
The Magic Circle firm drew up a nondisclosure agreement as part of the settlement between Weinstein and Perkins, who was advised by the London firm Simons Muirhead & Burton. Details of A&O’s role were described in a Financial Times article published last year.
Simons Muirhead partner Tamara Ludlow has also been called to appear before the select committee
Both law firms have refused requests to provide a copy of the NDA to the committee. According to the committee, the request was declined because Weinstein has refused permission to release it.
“Mark Mansell has been invited by the Women and Equalities Committee to give evidence for an inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace,” A&O said in a statement. “The inquiry is looking into the advantages and disadvantages of using nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases. Mark has been asked to give evidence in his capacity as one of the country’s leading employment lawyers with relevant expertise.”
Mansell and Ludlow are due to attend the session at 10:20 a.m. on Wednesday, March 28.
Perkins will also be providing evidence, alongside Max Winthrop, the chair of the Law Society’s employment law committee; Suzanne McKie QC, the founder of Farore Law, which specializes in sex discrimination, sexual harassment, equal pay and sexual assault; and Gareth Brahams, chair of the Employment Lawyers Association and managing partner at employment firm Brahams Dutt Badrick French.
In a statement, the committee said: “Nondisclosure agreements is a catch-all term for agreements that include confidentiality clauses—sometimes referred to as gagging clauses,” the committee said in a statement.
“There has been criticism of their use in sexual harassment cases, with concerns that they may be used to conceal improper, discriminatory or even illegal behavior, or to impede reporting of such behavior to the proper authorities.”
Earlier this month, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the independent regulatory body that regulates solicitors and law firms in England and Wales, warned law firms not to use NDAs to prevent the reporting of professional misconduct within their own businesses. The move came in the wake of several sexual harassment scandals that have rocked the profession.
The SRA issued a warning notice reminding firms that any potential professional misconduct by a person or firm should be reported to the regulator, including sexual harassment or misconduct.
Allegations of misconduct have emerged at a number of major law firms in recent months, as more and more women come forward to report examples of inappropriate behavior. Last week, Latham & Watkins chair and managing partner Bill Voge resigned from the firm after admitting to “communications of a sexual nature.”