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    « Oz v Overland | Main | Land of the rising bum »
    Tuesday
    Jun152010

    Clayton Utz in workplace defo drama

    Former Clayton Utz solicitor sues the firm for defamation … Email sent at the direction of former Law Soc prez Joe Catanzariti … Partners argue that proposed amended statement of claim “seriously prejudices them” ... Justice Simpson says firm’s submission is “inapt”

    Solicitor Bridgette Styles is suing all the partners of Clayton Utz in a defamation action arising from aggravation in the workplace group at the Sydney branch office of the big law shop.

    Styles, who worked at the firm for 16 months between August 2007 and December 2008, complains that Luis Izzo, a solicitor at Clayton Utz, defamed her in an oral communication to Joe Catanzariti, the firm’s employment law guru and former president of the NSW Law Society.

    According to a judgment of Carolyn Simpson in the NSW Supremes on June 7, dealing with a dispute about the pleadings, Izzo told Catanzariti on September 20, 2008:

    “Bridgette Styles, your new graduate solicitor, is making extremely serious and unjustified allegations about Abraham Ashe, Cilla Robinson and James Simpson and I [sic]. She is accusing us of conspiring to place pictures of me in Abe’s office. She is saying that she has been sexually harassed by the pictures and she is threatening to use the sexual harassment allegations as bargaining chips against the firm, to force us to let her stay in the Workplace Group after her rotation finishes. She was very aggressive and even grabbed me even though I was backing away. I don’t want to come back from secondment to the Workplace Group if she’s in it.”

    Styles has pleaded four defamatory imputations arising from that communication.

    She also alleged that the following day Izzo sent an email to an unknown number of people, one of whom was Sheila Rebeiro, the national HR manager of the corporate practice group.

    This email was a file note giving more details of Izzo’s exchange with Catanzariti.

    Catanzariti: directed email be sentIt is alleged that it was sent at the direction of Catanzariti, which makes the partnership as a whole liable for any defamatory consequences.

    The plaintiff’s pleadings claim the “sense and substance” of the email were republished to employees or agents of the firm, including to Rachael Weir the Sydney HR manager who then republished them to another person.

    The email also allegedly was discussed by an employee, Ms Jen Teh, “at a public bar in the vicinity of the offices of the partnership”.

    An office “alert” had been placed on Styles’ email address by the firm and so she republished Izzo’s file note in circumstances of a “social or moral” duty to truthfully answer queries about why she was not at work.

    Izzo’s email is the second matter complained of and Styles pleads that it gives rise to a further 16 defamatory imputations.

    Clutz went to court to get bits of the proposed amended statement of claim struck out, claiming that certain paragraphs seriously prejudiced the defendants.

    Since the amended statement of claim had not been filed Justice Simmo said that the application was “inapt”.

    The judge said Styles could have leave to file an amended statement of claim, but she’ll need to get it “reworked”.

    As Simpson put it:

    “The proposed pleading would be better if it made perfectly clear that reliance is placed upon republication as only going to damages.”

    By November 2011, Styles and Clutz had settled the claim

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