Veteran Ontario lawyer faces disciplinary action for sexual harassment, unprofessional correspondence with clients

Osgoode Hall in Toronto. Photo: Peterpiro/Getty Images/Canva

A lawyer with 41 years’ experience is facing discipline from the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) after he admitted to inappropriate behaviour, including talking about “hookers” in front of his staff and making comments about the physical appearance of his receptionist.

The lawyer, AR, was accused by LSO of violating its professional conduct rules by engaging in sexual harassment and discriminatory behavior toward female employees.

The allegations also extended to improper professional communication with clients. AR agreed to some of the facts presented in an Agreed Statement of Facts (ASF), a document prepared by the Law Society, but disputed others.

Background

According to the he LSO, AR contravened section 33 of the Law Society Act in three primary ways:

  1. Engaging in sexual harassment and/or discriminatory conduct towards female employees, which is contrary to Rule 6.3-3 and Rule 6.3.1-1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
  2. Sending correspondence to a client, identified as Client A, that was “abusive, offensive or otherwise inconsistent with the proper tone of a professional communication from a lawyer,” violating Rule 7.2-4 of the Rules.
  3. Sending correspondence to another client, known as Client B, and her father that was inconsistent with the tone of a professional communication, also in violation of Rule 7.2-4.

AR agreed that the facts related to the first two allegations constituted professional misconduct but disputed the third. A hearing focused on this third point.

Sexual harassment and discriminatory conduct

AR was accused of making references to “hookers” in front of three of his female employees, causing discomfort. AR explained that the term was used in reference to client matters, as he had represented many clients who were sex trade workers.

He acknowledged that the term was unprofessional and could have made his employees uncomfortable.

Additionally, AR made comments about a female receptionist’s physical appearance, asking clients, “Doesn’t my receptionist look good?”

The receptionist interpreted these comments to have a sexual connotation and left her job after three months. AR denied any intended sexual connotation but accepted that his comments were inappropriate.

AR sent an email to two female employees in which he used the term “bitches” to describe post office workers after a failed attempt to retrieve a package.

“I shouted at both these bitches but it didn’t do any good, when you get back just scribble unauthorized on this idiot letter and put the company stamp on it and then you have to go back, unfortunately. Sadly, we will have to do this next time too. A little bit of power going to the head of people on minimum wage,” AR wrote in the email.

While neither employee expressed discomfort with the language at the time, AR conceded that such language was inappropriate, particularly when directed at subordinates.

The Law Society of Ontario concluded that AR violated rules against sexual harassment and discrimination. He engaged in “a course of vexatious comment that he knew or ought to have known to be unwelcome,” which is contrary to Rules 6.3-3 and 6.3.1-1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Correspondence to ‘Client A’

In addition to workplace misconduct, AR also faced allegations of sending inappropriate correspondence to clients.

Client A had hired his firm for separation, divorce, and custody proceedings against her abusive husband. After a failed motion for temporary custody and a disputed invoice, AR responded abrasively to the client’s concerns.

His email included statements such as, “It is clear from all you have been through – beating and been urinated on – you are a very unhappy person – Not our problem.”

The Law Society concluded that this communication was “abusive, offensive and otherwise inconsistent with the proper tone of a professional communication,” violating Rule 7.2-4.

Correspondence to ‘Client B’

In May 2017, Client B, who was pregnant at the time, retained AR to assist in sponsoring her American husband’s immigration to Canada. Client B believed she was quoted a flat fee of $5,000, but AR argued that this was only a starting retainer.

By September 2017, Client B faced health issues that led to her hospitalization. Her husband took over communications AR, mainly corresponding with one of the firm’s employees. The couple submitted the required applications for spousal immigration and a work permit in October 2017.

Client B gave birth to a child on Jan. 11, 2018, experiencing life-threatening complications during delivery. On Jan. 22, she was notified that her husband’s work permit was approved. Around the same time, AR sent her an invoice for $10,000, even as she remained hospitalized. This led to a dispute over the fees, which was later partially settled with an additional payment of $2,500 by Client B.

During the course of these events, Client B, her husband, and AR exchanged numerous emails. AR accused the couple of sending “a torrent of abuse,” a claim disputed by the clients. Various issues were raised, including lack of communication, alternative paths for the work permit, and the delay in the process.

Client B’s father became involved, questioning the invoice and even accusing the Licensee of forging his daughter’s signature on the retainer agreement. Police were contacted but closed the investigation without charges.

The LSO tribunal assessed the emails based on whether they displayed “potent disrespect beyond mere rudeness or discourtesy.”

The communications in question were e-mails sent to a client dealing with serious health issues and her stressed family, it said. The e-mails were not hastily written during a judicial proceeding, but premeditated, giving AR ample time to maintain a professional tone.

Specific statements from the e-mails were cited to substantiate the claim of professional misconduct. These include exaggerated descriptions of the client’s communications, unfounded accusations about the client’s income, and personal attacks on the client’s father.

Based on these factors, the LSO tribunal concluded the e-mails met the criteria for a “potent display of disrespect” as per the Doré test and were inconsistent with the professional standards outlined in Rule 7.2-4.

It concluded that AR engaged in professional misconduct as alleged in the three particulars and noted that the tribunal office would schedule a hearing to determine penalty and costs.

For more information, see Law Society of Ontario v. Rogerson, 2023 ONLSTH 131 (CanLII)

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