Lawyers busted over 'sexist' email

The offensive email said that a black female employee should be replaced by a 'busty blonde'

The dangers of email misuse were highlighted again this week as one of the oldest law firms in London was accused of circulating a racist and sexist email about a female member of staff.

A 32-year-old black secretary is seeking substantial damages against her employer Charles Russell, for a discriminatory email that was sent out about her. A matter of hours after she had handed in her letter of resignation, the employee stumbled upon an email from lawyer Adam Downey to partner Clive Hopwell saying, "Can we go for a real fit busty blonde this time? She can't be any more trouble and at least it would provide some entertainment!"

The secretary, who has not been named, took the matter to personnel before launching legal proceedings. Her case is due to go before a tribunal next year, which could grant her unlimited damages.

"The whole thing is being discussed a very senior level," said Robin Bynoe, partner at Charles Russell. "The claim will be vigorously defended -- we are extremely cross and embarrassed about the incident."

The two senior lawyers involved have written letters of apology, and Hopwell offered the woman the chance to discuss the issue informally over lunch.

The secretary has been signed off work for the week by her doctor, due to the amount of stress that the incident has caused her.

The number of people losing their jobs in the UK for circulating emails regarded as unsuitable for their company's image or reputation is high. In December, a sexually explicit email originating from solicitor Bradley Chait at city law firm Norton Rose, was forwarded to ten million people around the world. In the same month, 40 employees were also sacked at the insurance firm Royal Sun Alliance after a smutty Bart Simpson image was accidentally emailed to a company director.

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