Gay rights advocacy group Stonewall has asked to meet Clifford Chance in the wake of a discrimination claim brought by former competition partner Michael Bryceland.
The sexual orientation claim, revealed exclusively by The Lawyer two weeks ago (20 August), is thought to be the first against a UK law firm. It was settled in April for an undisclosed amount.
Clifford Chance joined Stonewall’s list of ‘Diversity Champions’ in April 2006, becoming the first magic circle firm to do so. As such it promised to ensure equal benefits to same-sex couples, to encourage employee network groups and to ensure a zero-tolerance policy on homophobia in the workplace.
Will Martin, manager of Stonewall’s workplace programmes, told The Lawyer: “Clifford Chance is obviously going to be deeply embarrassed by this and will be looking to move very quickly to root out any culture that could have led to a claim. We’re confident that they’re sincere and that they want to improve their culture.”
That said, at the time of going to press the firm had yet to agree to Stonewall’s request for a meeting.
Meanwhile, key clients are standing by the magic circle firm. Barclays general counsel Mark Harding, who famously requires his external counsel to reveal their diversity policies, said the claim would not stop him instructing Clifford Chance. “You can’t assume that one piece of litigation – or attempted litigation – is reflective of the general atmosphere of a firm,” he explained.
Another Clifford Chance client did admit that he had called his relationship partner at the firm when the story broke, but said that it would be dangerous to draw conclusions without the facts. As the claim was withdrawn before a public hearing, the particulars remain confidential.