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Sexual Harassment Claims Against Law Firms About To Swamp Profession

Sexual harassment claims against law firms about to swamp profession

Sexual harassment claims against law firms are about to swamp the profession, according to experts.

Insiders say the profession is rife with sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

Sexual harassment claims against law firms

Today in the Federal Circuit Court, Judge Salvatore Vasta ordered the principal of a small NSW law firm to pay a former employee record damages.

Judge Vasta ordered Owen Hughes, of law firm Beesley and Hughes, to pay $170,000 in damages, including a record $50,000 in aggravated damages.

The court heard Hughes:

  • bombarded the woman with emails,
  • threatened her employment if she refused his sexual advances,
  • and once stood in her bedroom dressed only in boxer shorts and a t-shirt.

Judge Vasta described Hughes’ conduct as “relentlesss” and “particularly sinister”.

Owen Hughes – ordered to pay former employee $170,000 for sexual harassment. (Picture: Northern Star)

Another boutique law firm sued

Dehsabzi Lawyers, based in Parramatta in Sydney, is facing allegations of sex discrimination in the Federal Circuit Court, Lawyer Weekly reports.

Ms Yasmin Malak, a former employee of the firm, claims the firm’s principal Sayar Dehsabzi subjected her to sex discrimination.

Dehsabzi Lawyers practices in a number of areas, according to its website, including:

  • criminal law,
  • migration,
  • defamation,
  • personal injury
  • and traffic matters.

Hicksons Lawyers also defending action

Justine Mary Matthews, a former partner of national firm Hicksons Lawyers, has lodged a human rights claim in the Federal Court.

Court records state it is an application pertaining to ‘sex’.

Managing partner John Markos, consultant Alan Blanch, and partners Rod Cameron, Cameron Lever, Stewart Cameron, David Fischl and Paul Hendriks are named on the application.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Hicksons’ chairperson Karen Kumar said:

“We don’t intend to comment on the individual filing on the basis that it is before the courts, but it is a matter that will be vigorously defended by the firm.”

Matthews worked in the firm’s workplace relations and insurance practice since 2010.

She resigned from Hicksons in December 2016, and has not worked for the firm since.

Tip of the iceberg

Industrial relations specialist Miles Heffernan from Fair Work Claims says the recent claims are just the beginning.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“For a long time now, the legal profession has been immune to court proceedings.

“Young lawyers starting out in the profession are terrified to complain about harassment or discrimination because they fear ruining their career prospects,” he said.

“I predict we will soon see a wave of claims from young women, and men, who have experienced this sort of appalling and unlawful conduct.”

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