US lawyer's warning on damages

THE BAKER & McKenzie $7 million sexual harassment decision showed that the employer's response was on trial as much as the conduct of the individual concerned, says a US firm.

Baker & McKenzie hit the headlines last September when it made a record pay-out to a secretary who was sexually harassed by a former partner.

Speaking on punitive damages at a London seminar held by Chicago firm Mayer, Brown & Platt, Washington-based partner Andy Frey said punitive damages could be imposed if the jury felt the employer's response had not been strong enough.

“The horror stories on punitive damages were not a fair representation of a cross-section of litigation in the US, but the decisions worried business,” he said.

The seminar for corporate clients and legal contacts examined legal “hot spots” for foreign business in the US.

Chicago-based partner Percy Angelo discussed the environmental problems when acquiring property in the US. She questioned using environmental consultants as there were no current standards and many had “poor backgrounds”.