Russell McVeagh has responded to a fresh allegation of sexually inappropriate behaviour at the firm.
Over the weekend, Khylee Quince, a senior Auckland University law lecturer, described an incident she said happened “some years ago” at Russell McVeagh when she was a University of Auckland lecturer.
In the post, Quince said that a very upset student came to her after attending a seminar the night before at the firm’s office.
“She said that after the seminar, the solicitors and students proceeded to drink the firm's bar dry and things got out of control – culminating on a number of staff having sex on the boardroom table with several students – in front of the other students,” Quince said.
Quince made inquiries into what the student told her and found out that there were “no question as to consent,” which is why she didn’t report it to the police. However, she did contact the firm to demand a meeting with the senior staff member said to have been present during the incident.
“He refused to meet or engage with us,” she said.
The firm’s then chief executive eventually met with Quince and another lecturer. Quince said they were told that the students were adults and were responsible for their drinking, and that the incident was none of the lecturers’ business.
Gary McDiarmid, Russell McVeagh chief executive, said in a statement that there have been a limited number of allegations of poor behaviour involving consensual sexual events including on the firm’s premises over the past 20 years. He said the post referred to one of these, which occurred more than 10 years ago.
“Due to the consensual nature of the event, a formal complaint was never made. However, it was investigated fully and those involved were reprimanded,” McDiarmid said. “For a full formal investigation to be initiated we require a formal complaint to be made so that privacy laws are not breached. This has limited our ability to prove the alleged misconduct.”
“When allegations of any sort have been made we have taken action. If proven, we have taken action appropriate to the severity of the misconduct. In some cases, this has resulted in termination of employment or a partner departing, regardless of their seniority,” McDiarmid said.
The chief executive said that “there will no doubt be rumours or online chat about other supposed events in the past that either weren’t known about at the time by management or were alleged and not proven or were not the subject of formal complaints. We are unable to comment on events that may or may not have happened in such circumstances.”
He reiterated the firm’s commitment to “having a culture of zero tolerance of any sexual harassment” and referred to its recently announced firm-wide external review of serious allegations of sexual misconduct in the past two years.
“We expect this review to include an examination of Russell McVeagh’s culture and how complaints are dealt with,” he said.
The fresh blow comes as Russell McVeagh is still dealing with a separate scandal that broke earlier this month. More than two years ago, student law clerks are said to have complained about sexually inappropriate behaviour of two older male lawyers, who have since left the firm, during a firm Christmas party in Wellington.
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