Queenstown lawyer subject to complaint over 'hareem' comment

A Queenstown lawyer who commented about wanting a 'hareem' is the subject of a complaint to the Law Society.

Graeme Todd, principal at Todd & Walker Law, says he never intended to cause offence when he made the comment on the firm's public Facebook page earlier this month.

Under a photo of a staff lunch a woman commented: "I notice a large gender imbalance Graeme, not that I blame you. Maybe Russell McVeagh offices could take a leaf."

Mr Todd replied: "We have a fantastic team and you know I have always fancied having my own hareem."

"No offence was ever intended," Mr Todd said.
"No offence was ever intended," Mr Todd said. Photo credit: Todd & Walker/ supplied

A harem is defined in the Oxford dictionary as:

  • Harem NOUN 1 (in former times) the separate part of a Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants. 'we were invited into the harem in the rear of the house'
  • The women occupying a harem; the wives (or concubines) of a polygamous man. 'the Maharaja of Delhi had a very fine harem of 18 young and nubile wives'
  • A group of female animals sharing a single mate. 'the dominant bulls gather a harem of anything from two to ten cows' 1.3 derogatory
  • A group of women perceived as centring around a particular man. 'rich men with their extensive harems of buxom blondes' at are the mates of a single male

Law researcher and #metoo blogger Zoë Lawton has submitted a complaint to the Law Society about the remark. She said she was making the complaint on behalf of several woman who found the remark to be "sexist and derogatory".

"These women felt unable to speak out publicly about Mr Todd and be named in this complaint because of the potential ramifications to their careers. I am therefore making this complaint on their behalf," Ms Lawton said in the letter which was sent on Wednesday.

Zoë Lawton made the complaint on behalf of several women who felt they could not speak out.
Zoë Lawton made the complaint on behalf of several women who felt they could not speak out. Photo credit: Supplied

Mr Todd said he never intended to cause offence by the remark, which has since been deleted.

"It is not appropriate I speak about this as the matter is as I understand from a Facebook post it is the subject of a complaint to the NZ Law Society and I shouldn't comment publicly if that is correct," he told Newshub on Tuesday.

"When the matter was brought to my attention yesterday I immediately apologised to anyone who might have been offended by my comments and to my staff and removed the post so no one else would claim to be offended. No offence was ever intended."

Ms Lawton said the remark did not meet the definition of sexual harassment under section 62 the Human Rights Act, and so it did not meet the Law Society's standards for a complaint of misconduct.

She said she wasn't seeking for Mr Todd to be suspended or struck off, but said it isn't appropriate that senior male lawyers should be able to make sexist and derogatory remarks "with no repercussions whatsoever".

She suggested he should be required to issue an apology on the firm's public Facebook page where he initially made the remark.

Ms Lawton has also asked the Law Society to consider adopting a process for handling complaints where the actions of the lawyer do not warrant a formal investigation but do warrant some investigation and potential repercussions.

"If there are no repercussions, Mr Todd and other senior male lawyers like him will continue to behave in this way to the detriment of their female staff and women in the legal profession more generally. It is without doubt that these remarks perpetuate the culture of sexual harassment that exists in not all, but many parts of the legal profession."

Mr Todd made the comment on July 7, two days after Dame Margaret Bazley released a damning review into the culture at law firm Russell McVeagh.

If you have a similar experience you want to talk about, contact Emma at emmahurley@mediaworks.co.nz  

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