The managing partner of the Belgium office of Baker McKenzie has left the firm following an internal investigation into claims of racism. Daniel Felser, the departing partner, had temporarily stepped down from his leadership role pending the completion of the investigation.
The probe was launched after after we exclusively revealed that a former lawyer at the firm had quit over what she claimed was a “lack of diversity” in a departing email to colleagues.
The mixed-race lawyer, who we have not named, alleged a series of discriminatory incidents took place during her time at the firm, which included colleagues using the “N word”, touching her hair out of curiosity, and questioning whether a family photo was “a rap album cover”.
She also claimed she was “yelled at” by a staff member for reporting the use of “blackface” during a traditional “Sinterklass” event and that her work email address indicated only part of her surname as “it would otherwise be confusing for clients”.
Kirsty Wilson, a member of Baker McKenzie’s executive committee and its global inclusion, diversity & equity committee chair, issued a statement on Felser’s
ouster departure: “We have completed a thorough review of the incidents and broader issues raised in our former colleague’s email. Where we were able to identify individuals responsible for specific incidents, appropriate action has been taken. We are incredibly sorry and sincerely regret that our former Belgium colleague, or any colleague, has had this experience.”
Wilson continued, noting that “a new management team will take our Belgium offices forward” and that “as part of this, we have agreed with Daniel Fesler that he will permanently step down from the role of managing partner and leave the firm. We thank him for his service and commitment to clients over the past 30 years.”
It’s good to see the global firm taking allegations of racism seriously. Now that “appropriate action” has been taken, we hope that life at Baker McKenzie Belgium takes a turn for the better.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.