Discrimination claims against top-tier law firm to proceed

by 15 Oct 2009

Claims of disability discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation being made against Clayton Utz by a former employee will be allowed to proceed, after the NSW Administrative Appeals Tribunal (ADT) granted leave last Tuesday.

The ex-employee, Michael Mitchell, originally brought the claims against Clayton Utz and a number of employees to the Anti-Discrimination Board, but they dismissed these claims for lack of substance.

Mitchell then sought leave to have the matter heard before the NSW ADT.

Mitchell commenced with the firm as a solicitor in 2007 but was dismissed six week later.

However, Mitchell, who has been diagnosed as bipolar, claims the real reason he was dismissed was because he refused to provide detailed information about his medial condition.

He also claims he was subjected to harassing remarks by fellow employees, including "trench" and "flasher" when he told them he had changed into sports clothes beneath his trench coat. He claims he then responded to the comments by asking two of his colleagues on separate occasions whether they had been fantasising about him in his trench coat, to indicate he was an "easy going person".

The NSW ADT determined last week that some of Mitchell's claims were arguable. He will be allowed to proceed with some complaints of disability discrimination, sexual harassment, and victimisation against the firm and a number of employees. He was refused leave for a number of other complaints.

Clayton Utz has rejected the claims, with spokesperson telling Lawyers Weekly last week: "Mr Mitchell's claims, which we reject, remain untested before the Administrative Decisions Tribunal and were dismissed by the Anti-Discrimination Board as having no substantive basis. There is no merit to the claims and we will vigorously defend any claim that is pursued."

Responding today, Mitchell released the following statement to Lawyers Weekly: "NSW case law clearly states that it is 'difficult, if not impossible, to determine if there is substance to an allegation prior to a substantive hearing' (Ehl v. Department of Education and Training) Therefore, it was deeply troubling that the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board dismissed all of my complaints as being without a substantive basis prior to a substantive hearing, especially considering that the President did not explain his reasons in any way. Following the President's decision, Clayton Utz's legal counsel Kate Easton argued that in order for me to be granted leave to pursue my complaint, I was required to demonstrate to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal that my complaint, was an "obviously meritable complaint," and I was obviously successful in doing this, as the ADT granted me leave to pursue multiple complaints of sexual harassment, disability discrimination and victimization against Clayton Utz. Considering that leave is granted in only a handful of occasions each year, the ADT's decision to grant me leave is very satisfying."

The Mitchell/Clayton Utz dispute previously hit the media headlines when Mitchell attempted to contact a former colleague via Facebook.

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