Sometimes law firm after-hours parties get pretty wild. The Great Recession didn’t put a damper on one Toronto firm’s celebrations last year. In January 2009, Mathews, Dinsdale & Clarke threw a rager in honor of its annual labour law “moot” competition for Canadian law students. (We mentioned this story briefly in yesterday’s Non-Sequiturs.)
After awards were given out at a dinner, the lawyerly crew headed to Toronto night club Cheval, for bottle service and dancing. Things got a little crazy. One senior associate got so hammered that “he left the club without his coat or keys and vomited in the taxi cab as it left the club.” And one partner, David Cowling, allegedly got too friendly with some of the female associates while grinding on the dance floor.
Two associates complained about his behavior to other partners, and now Cowling is suing the two associates (who have since left the firm) for defamation and intentional interference with economic relations.
So what did they allege?
Adrian Jakibchuk, a fourth-year lawyer, and Sarah Diebel, a second-year lawyer, spoke up about Cowling’s allegedly inappropriate dance floor behavior. From the Financial Post:
Mr. Cowling’s lawsuit includes a 13-page letter that Ms. Diebel drafted and provided to partner Neil Ornstein, which she asked him to keep “confidential and read it in a private place, as I regret to say its subject is unpleasant.” The letter forms the basis of Mr. Cowling’s claim for libel and is an appendix to his statement of claim.
Apparently, Canadian law parties aren’t that different from American Biglaw parties:
The copy of the handwritten letter, which has redacted many names of the lawyers involved, described in detail the events that allegedly took place that night, including allegations of people being “extremely intoxicated,” lap dances, and partners of the firm hitting on younger women.
It sounds like Diebel isn’t a fan of the “booty dancing”:
Ms. Diebel’s letter alleged that Mr. Cowling and another firm lawyer, whose name has been redacted, were “rubbing their butts up against me and other women, putting their arms around me at any chance they got and flirting heavily. This behaviour from my perspective was unwelcome. While I like to dance, I don’t like being groped.”
The Financial Post explains that lawyers’ hard-partying ways often open firms up to sexual harassment complaints:
In a profession where lawyers work long hours, sit in positions of power and often socialize together in situations where alcohol flows freely, they are exposed to such complaints.
The Post points out that, ironically, Mathews Dinsdale is a labor relations and employment law firm, which often handles sexual harassment complaints.
Lawyers at a notable Toronto labour law firm who advise employers on dealing with sensitive workplace issues have become embroiled in their own storm centring on allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct, which have surfaced in an explosive $2.3-million defamation case.
It’s unclear how the associates’ complaints hurt Cowling economically. He’s still a partner at Mathews Dinsdale, while Jakibchuk and Diebel have both left. Sarah Diebel resigned in June 2009. We don’t know what became of Adrian Jakibchuk, though we imagine Cowling wasn’t giving him much work. Cowling claims reputational harm and “mental distress, humiliation, apprehension and stigmatization.”
Filing this lawsuit should definitely help with that.
A friendly PSA for partners: When treating your associates to bottle service, keep your bottles away from their booties.
Alleged actions at law firm party sparks legal spat [Financial Post]