Solicitor cleared over “accidental” kiss with colleague

Waldorf: Spring party

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has dismissed an allegation that a solicitor planted an unwanted kiss on the lips of a more junior colleague at their firm’s spring party.

The panel found that it could not prefer the evidence of the woman over that of Jassen Venkatasamy, who said the contact was accidental, and so could not be sure on the balance of probabilities that it had been a deliberate act.

Mr Venkatasamy, who qualified in 2018, was an associate at accountancy giant Deloitte in March 2022 when he and ‘Person A’ attended its spring legal party at the Waldorf Hotel in London.

Person A alleged that, at the end of the party, whilst she was sat outside the cloakroom changing her shoes, Mr Venkatasamy – whom she did not know – engaged her in conversation.

He then asked for a hug, which Person A thought was a strange request but one she consented to. However, as they were going in to hug, she said Mr Venkatasamy leaned in and kissed her on the lips, which she did not consent to.

Person A was very upset and immediately told a number of colleagues what had happened. She made her complaint to the firm on the following day. Mr Venkatasamy left Deloitte about six weeks later for unconnected reasons – he was not aware of the allegation until afterwards.

He said it was “his invariable practice and common courtesy… to provide a hug and intended kiss on the cheek… in the context of saying goodbye”.

He recalled that he made a clumsy attempt at a kiss on the cheek but “inadvertently made contact with [Person A’s] lips, the duration of which lasted less than one second.”

Person A said it was “disgusting” and “intrusive”. She “froze” and then he pulled away. She described feeling “sick” and “embarrassed” because she had recently joined the firm.

Person A described the impact of the incident as making her feel “more scared out in public” and also that it affected her confidence.

She worried that she might give off the wrong impression to people and generally felt less trustful of men. She stated that, on the whole, “I feel a lot more vulnerable and angrier”.

Mr Venkatasamy said he was in a relationship at the time and had no intention of pursuing anyone else. He was “extremely sorry” for any misunderstanding and upset caused to Person A.

He said his employer had terminated his contract as a result of the allegation.

The SDT said it found all the witnesses – including a Ms Bennett, who had seen the incident – to be witnesses of truth.

Though called by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as a prosecution witness, the SDT found that Ms Bennett’s evidence did not advance its case on Mr Venkatasamy’s intention – rather, it supported his position that the kiss was a “quick peck”.

“It was plain that on the essential issue, the dispute between the parties was whether Mr Venkatasamy had deliberately kissed Person A on the lips as alleged, or whether it was an innocent error…

“The tribunal did not find that it could prefer the evidence of Person A over that of Mr Venkatasamy. Accordingly, the tribunal could not find, on the balance of probabilities, that Mr Venkatasamy had deliberately kissed Person A on the lips knowing that she did not consent to such contact.”

It therefore found the allegation not proved.

Though saying that it was “reasonable” for the SRA to have brought the case, it rejected the regulator’s application for costs of £23,000, making no order as to costs.

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