Ontario lawyer suspended for one month, ordered to pay costs after findings of sexual harassment and abusive communications

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An Ontario lawyer has been suspended for one month and ordered to pay costs of $5,000 following findings of sexual harassment and discriminatory conduct towards female employees, alongside abusive and unprofessional communications with clients.

This decision came after the Law Society of Ontario v. Rogerson case, where the lawyer was found to have violated several professional conduct rules.

The lawyer was seeking a reprimand whereas the Law Society of Ontario argued for a one-month suspension.

Inappropriate actions

The lawyer’s inappropriate actions included derogatory comments towards sex trade workers and his receptionist, impacting the workplace environment and leading to the resignation of the affected employee.

“He derogatorily described sex trade workers as ‘hookers’ in front of his staff, causing them discomfort,” the Law Society Tribunal Hearing Division wrote in the ruling. “He also engaged in sexual harassment with the use of a gendered expletive, ‘bitches,’ in reference to post office staff with whom he and his staff had encountered difficulties.”

Additionally, his communications with two “vulnerable” clients regarding fee disputes were laced with offensive content, exploiting the personal traumas of one and accusing the other of unethical behavior without evidence.

Penalty

Despite arguments for a mere reprimand based on the the lawyer’s clean prior disciplinary record and his engagement in rehabilitation efforts, including sensitivity training and ongoing therapy, the Tribunal ordered a one-month suspension.

“We are of the view that the sexual misconduct at issue in this case, together with the other misconduct involving unprofessional, and at times abusive, written communications, was sufficiently serious such that a suspension should be ordered,” the Tribunal said.

“While the sexual misconduct was directed at employees rather than clients, they were in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis the Licensee, who was their employer. As noted earlier, the consequences of the sexual misconduct were not negligible: one employee resigned her position.”

This decision reflects the Tribunal’s stance on the seriousness of sexual harassment and the importance of maintaining public confidence in the legal profession.

The Tribunal also awarded $5,000 in costs to the Law Society, acknowledging the lawyer’s co-operation throughout the proceedings but underscoring the need for accountability in the legal field.

The suspension is set to commence on March 4, 2024, with the lawyer granted until January 31, 2025, to fulfill the cost payment.

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