Cameron McKenna partner tried to suppress sexual harassment claims

Sean Farrell meets one of the women at the centre of Camerons harassment case, who speaks out for the first time.

One of the women at the centre of sexual harassment allegations levelled at Cameron McKenna has broken her silence in an exclusive interview with The Lawyer.

Veronica Pescud, who was a secretary in the firm's troubled CIS group, makes allegations not only about the extraordinary behaviour of Ilia Iaroslavski, head of Camerons' Tashkent office, but also about Elena Kirillova, who is head of the CIS group.

Pescud has not spoken publicly about her experience until now because under the terms of her settlement with Camerons in July 1998 both she and the firm were bound by a confidentiality clause prohibiting either party from commenting on the case or any matters relating to it.

But in September, Cam-erons' managing partner Robert Derry-Evans was quoted in the press as saying the case against Iaroslavski was “not black and white”, while a spokesman for the firm added that the remarks made by Iaroslavski were ambiguous in Russian and innocuous when translated into English.

Following these statements, Pescud has decided to give her version of events.

Pescud says that the comments from the firm made her very angry and upset.

She says: “I felt as if I had been abused again, but this time by someone bigger than Iaroslavski, and felt they had not taken me seriously.”

According to Pescud, the comments made to her by Iaroslavski were anything but ambiguous.

One such graphic incident occurred in January 1998 in Kirillova's presence shortly after Pescud had complained to Kirillova about Iaros-lavski's behaviour towards her.

Pescud says: “Afterwards Elena laughed and said we will have to take him to court for sexual harassment. I said, 'Yes if you would be willing to testify for me', and she smiled and said that's why it is so difficult to do. She made it plain that she wouldn't be willing to do that.

“She told me I had no chance and would have to grin and bear it because she treated it as a joke.”

Pescud asked that Kirillova should keep her complaints secret but on 28 January 1998 Iaroslavski made it clear that he knew about her complaints and said that there would be a meeting that day between him, Kirillova and Pescud to investigate them.

As it happened, Kirillova knew nothing about the proposed meeting, but the prospect of it distressed Pescud so much that she set out her case against Iaroslavski in a memo that she sent to Kirillova, Vera Farrants, head of administration in Camerons' London office, and John Renz, head of personnel.

Pescud says that Farrants responded straight away to her memo and asked her to deal with the issue through Kirillova.

Shortly after the memo had been sent Pescud claims that Kirillova asked her to stop her memo reaching personnel, which she did, and said that she would talk to Iaroslavski.

Pescud says: “The next day she destroyed my confidence. She called me first thing in the morning into the office to tell me the result of her meeting with Ilia and she seemed [to me] to treat the whole thing as a joke. She said, 'I've spoken to Ilia and touch wood…' and she knocked on the desk and giggled in this girlish way she has sometimes, '…he won't do it again'.”

“When I said 'I am going to take this further and take it to personnel', she started to cry and said she would lose her partnership and 'You don't want to see me and my children on the streets'.”

Pescud says that Kirillova's response was to ask her to call all the lawyers in the Tashkent office to ask whether they could function without Iaroslavski.

The next day, following a conference call between Kirillova, Iaroslavski, Natasha Lobova and a Tashkent lawyer called Arkadiy Surkov, Pescud received a call from Surkov.

“He called me and he was appealing to God and saying Ilia is a lonely man and I had to imagine how awful it is for him to come back to a lonely apartment and if I believed in God then God would punish all the liars eventually,” she says.

Pescud says she felt under enormous pressure from Kirillova. She decided Kirillova would never take her complaints seriously and sent her memo to personnel. She did not sleep that night, but came to work the next day.

However two days of stress had left her feeling physically ill. She left the firm on the afternoon of 30 January 1998 and did not return.

Pescud stresses that she had wanted to deal with the matter internally and had no desire to leave the firm, because before working for Iaroslavski she had been very happy there.

Camerons has since cast doubt on Pescud's claims against the firm, but she shows The Lawyer a letter from Derry-Evans, dated 3 August 1998, saying: “I would like to apologise on behalf of the firm and in particular Kirillova and Iaroslavski for our contribution to the circumstances which have given rise to your illness.

“We very much regret the distress and hurt caused by the conduct of Kirillova and Iaroslavski.

“We would also like to express our regret that your employment should have come to an end in these circumstances.”

Pescud also shows The Lawyer a letter dated 13 February 1998 from her then solicitors Charles Russell saying Renz “was at pains to emphasise that the firm accepted your version of events.

“Indeed three other people…confirmed the contents of your memo. Notwithstanding this, the managing partner has decided not to summarily dismiss [Iaroslavski] for gross misconduct.”

Cameron McKenna issued a statement in response to The Lawyer's allegations on Friday saying: “We will state that a written settlement was agreed with Veronica that provided for confidentiality on both sides. We do not intend to breach this agreement. We can say that a complaint was made by Veronica and that it is a matter of public record that this complaint was taken very seriously.

“Following the complaint, disciplinary action was taken against a member of staff and some 18 months ago we reached an agreement with Veronica that she accepted.”

The people involved

Ilia Iaroslavski – assistant in the CIS group, big-billing head of Cameron McKenna's Tashkent office, accused of sexual harassment by former members of the CIS group.

Elena Kirillova – head of the CIS group and chief supporter of Iaroslavski.

Robert Derry-Evans – managing partner of Camerons.

Veronica Pescud – former secretary in CIS group in London. Won modest payout from Camerons after complaining of sexual harassment by Iaroslavski.

Natasha Lobova – former assistant in CIS group who won a substantial payout from the firm after accusing Iaroslavski of sexual harassment and Iaroslavski and Kirillova of bullying. Supported Pescud in her complaint against Iaroslavski.

Vera Farrants – head of administration at Camerons.

Liza Horstkamp – former para-legal in CIS group; claim pending against the firm concerning her alleged treatment at the hands of Iaroslavski and Kirillova.

John Renz – Camerons' head of personnel.

Natasha Thomson and Dmitri Chebotarev – former assistants in CIS group. Claim pending against the firm alleging unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination.

Timetable of events

January 1998 – Veronica Pescud leaves Cameron McKenna, alleging sexual harassment by Iaroslavski and victimisation by Kirillova.

May 1998 – Iaroslavski's promotion to partnership postponed as the result of Pescud's claim. He is given a final warning.

July 1998 – Natasha Lobova leaves the firm alleging sexual harassment by Iaroslavski and victimisation by Iaroslavski and Kirillova.

August 1998 – Pescud settles her tribunal claim against the firm.

July 1998 – Liza Horstkamp leaves the firm with a stress-related disorder and begins proceedings alleging mistreatment by Kirillova and Iaroslavski.

June 1999 – Lobova settles her tribunal claim.

The Lawyer reveals Pescud's and Lobova's claims.

Dmitri Chebotarev and Natasha Thomson are dismissed by the firm. They claim unfair dismissal and racial and sexual discrimination.

September 1999 – Derry-Evans says Pescud's claim was not 'black and white'. Renz claims Pescud's original allegations to the firm were ambiguous.

January 1999 – The Lawyer reveals that Tashkent State University, where Iaroslavski claims to have qualified with a masters in law, has no record of his attendance.