Male partner who “harassed” junior female colleague agrees to come off roll

Texts: Partner sent inappropriate messages

An employment solicitor who made “inappropriate” comments to a junior colleague has avoided the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal by agreeing to remove himself from the roll for at least three years.

Ronald Stephen Simms accepted that his behaviour could be interpreted as sexual in nature and harassment.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) also rebuked Mr Simms, a former partner in the Leeds office of Capsticks, which is also the regulator’s external law firm.

According to a regulatory settlement agreement published yesterday, both Mr Simms and ‘Colleague A’ were members of an employment law team that joined Capsticks in 2014.

“At that point, those who were moving to the firm began to socialise together and share messages using their personal mobile phone numbers.”

Mr Simms was Colleague A’s line manager. “At some point, after March 2014, Mr Simms began to exchange messages with Colleague A between their personal mobile phones. Some of the messages were inappropriate.

“In addition, in July 2017 while travelling back from a work meeting as a passenger in the front seat of Colleague A’s car, Mr Simms placed his hand on Colleague A’s thigh while she was driving and made an inappropriate comment to the effect ‘ooh give me a moment’.”

Further, at a team meeting in September 2017, just before Colleague A went off on maternity leave, Mr Simms made an “inappropriate comment referring to Colleague A’s sex life, her becoming pregnant and taking maternity leave”.

Colleague A first informed Capsticks of the messages and of the incident in the car in December 2018. Following disciplinary processes, the firm reported it to the SRA on 1 April 2019.

Mr Simms admitted sending “inappropriate and at times unwanted messages… that were capable of being interpreted as sexual in nature” to Colleague A between December 2016 and February 2018.

He admitted the other two incidents – although he said he could not “specifically recall” the comments made at the meeting – and that his conduct “was capable of being interpreted as harassment”.

In mitigation, the solicitor – who now runs an HR consultancy – said he had made “limited admissions” and apologised to the firm, Colleague A and the SRA the outset of the investigation in 2019.

He also expressed “regret and remorse about his actions and has accepted that he failed to meet the required standards”.

Mr Simms said he had volunteered since February 2020 to remove himself from the roll of solicitors. He has now given an undertaking to do so and not seek to reapply for admission for at least three years. He also accepted a rebuke from the SRA.

The SRA initially decided to refer him to the tribunal but has rescinded that in light of the agreement, with the rebuke and removal from the roll “proportionate in all the circumstances”.

Mr Simms also agreed to pay costs of £13,000.

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