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Toronto lawyer suspended for three months after berating, sexually harassing colleague

by HR Law Canada

A Toronto lawyer has been suspended for three months by the Law Society of Ontario’s Tribunal Hearing Division following a finding of professional misconduct.

The Tribunal concluded that the lawyer, SS, engaged in inappropriate verbal and physical behavior towards FJ, a law clerk in his office in 2011, and later as a lawyer in 2015. However, allegations regarding his conduct towards a client, MT, were dismissed.

The Law Society initially proposed a six-month suspension, while SS suggested one month. After deliberations, the Tribunal settled on a three-month period, taking into account the nature of the misconduct and its impact. This decision reflects the Tribunal’s emphasis on maintaining public confidence in the legal profession and its self-regulation.

Four separate incidents

The misconduct detailed in the Tribunal’s findings was serious and involved four separate incidents. In 2011, SS was accused of yelling at FJ in an intimidating and demeaning manner, and in one instance, making unwelcome sexual suggestions.

He brought FJ into his office and called her a “piece of shit” for leaving the office at 6 p.m. the previous evening and to tell her that nobody would hire her as a lawyer.

“The incident was traumatic and verbally abusive for FJ, causing her to be completely shocked and to cry. Again, (SS) failed to act towards FJ with courtesy and civility,” the Tribunal said.

In 2015, the situation escalated to unwanted sexual touching, constituting sexual harassment. These actions were deemed offensive, humiliating, and a violation of professional conduct standards.

“He told her she should unbutton her blouse and ‘use her assets’ as ‘eye candy.’ FJ did not say anything in response, because she was in a dependent and vulnerable role as a ‘legal intern’. She wanted to article, respected the respondent, and wanted him to like her. FJ was conscious of his role as a rainmaker at the law firm,” the Tribunal said. “She testified that the incident left her scared, confused and uncomfortable with (SS).”

Costs awarded

In addition to the suspension, the Tribunal ordered a net cost award of $6,000 to the Law Society, acknowledging that some allegations were “unwarranted” and occupied a significant portion of the hearing.

The Law Society had sought costs of $40,500 — reduced 25% from its docketed time of $54,000 — to account for the divided success. The Tribunal said the portions of the hearing in which the Law Society was successful was about 50%. It awarded $25,000 in costs, but then offset an award in SS’ favour of about 40% of his costs ($19,000), resulting in the net award of $6,000.

For more information, see Law Society of Ontario v. Suh, 2023 ONLSTH 152 (CanLII).

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