Back in January 2009, a moot court after-party hosted by Mathews, Dinsdale & Clarke got wild enough to spark allegations of sexual harassment. Canadians do know how to party, eh? The “night of debauchery” has haunted David Cowling ever since; he was one of the partners accused of getting overly friendly with female associates and law students, while gettin’ jiggy.
He says that an internal law firm investigation cleared him of charges of inappropriate dance floor behavior, but that the firm refused to make that public, leading to rumors continuing to swirl in his work and social communities in Toronto. Oh, and have we mentioned that David Cowling specializes in labor and employment law? “If I were a personal injury lawyer, sexual harassment rumors would not be such a bad mark on my professional reputation,” says Cowling.
So he filed a libel suit against Adrian Jakibchuk and Sarah Diebel, the two associates who accused him of doing the really funky chicken on the dance floor. Apparently, they don’t study the Barbara Streisand effect in Canadian law schools. That got the allegations splashed across Canadian newspapers and here at ATL.
But now he’s got his name cleared, with a public statement from his prior firm, along with a seven-figurish settlement. He started a new firm and dropped his lawsuit against his accusers, and has a few things to say about his side of the story.
So say you’re the law student who supposedly got felt up by a partner on the dance floor, and his lawyer calls you up in the middle of exam week to talk about it. Yeah, that’s awkward. And Cowling sent along the transcript…
The junior associate who complained about the behavior of Cowling and two other partners at night club Cheval said that booze was flowing freely, that there were lap dances and people throwing up in cabs, and that the partners were rubbing their butts up against her and other women. (Um, it’s called booty dancing! And that sounds awesome.) She also said that Cowling got über-lecherous with one of the law students who participated in moot court.
Cowling’s lawyer called the Allegedly Molested Law Student up. Here’s an excerpt from Cowling’s lawyer’s phone call with the student. Her name’s been blacked out:
Cowling’s lawyer then asks Molested Law Student (who happens to be in the midst of exam week) if she was aware of the allegations that had been made on her behalf.
This kind of testimony and the embarrassment of the ongoing litigation eventually led Mathews, Dinsdale & Clarke to issue a public statement exonerating Cowling, in exchange for his dropping his lawsuit against the two former associates.
The firm still faces a wrongful termination lawsuit from Adrian Jakibchuk, one of the associates who backed up the allegations, who was later fired from the firm.
“My side of the story hasn’t previously been fairly told,” says Cowling. “In January 2009, the firm considered firing Ms. Sara Diebel [the associate who made the allegations], but instead put her on a watch list. The firing decision was temporarily postponed. Later that week, the moot party happened. Just after the party, there was a leak and the associates learned about the firing decision. Then I and my two partners were falsely accused of sexual harassment. The firm decided to rescind its firing decision, and gave Diebel a hiring coach. The effect of the harassment allegation was to undo what had been done.”
I asked Cowling if he regretted filing his lawsuit against the associates, and thus vaulting the incident onto a national (and international) stage. “I couldn’t just let this go. It’s the area in which I practice,” he replied. “And I was exonerated, now publicly exonerated.”
Kash is an editor emeritus of Above the Law. She now spends her days at Forbes writing about privacy, technology and the law at The Not-So Private Parts.