Fiona Thatcher, the lawyer who left Australian law firm Allens after being sexually harassed by a colleague, says sexual harassers can sleep easier after a legal regulator decided not to pursue disciplinary action against the perpetrator.
In 2021, news emerged that Allens senior associate Timothy Leschke had sent Thatcher lewd and aggressive text messages demanding sex, and arrived uninvited at her apartment. Allens accepted her version of events.
However, in a letter to Thatcher, seen by Law.com International, the Queensland Legal Services Commission (LSC) states that, though there is “sufficient evidence to establish” that these “events occurred,” the case was unlikely to succeed, and it has therefore decided not to take action.
Commissioner Megan Mahon said in the letter: “Noting the available disciplinary case law about conduct involving sexual harassment, I do not consider it likely that a disciplinary body would find this conduct to amount to unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct.”
Thatcher said that by failing to take action, the LSC has failed to send a message to the legal profession that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
“Sexual harassers in our industry can sleep easier knowing that even if they are unlucky enough to be called out on their damaging, predatory and toxic behaviour, their firms and even the LSC will protect them,” she said.
Thatcher was a junior associate in Allens’ Brisbane office in 2015 when colleague Leschke sent her text messages demanding sex and arrived uninvited at her Brisbane apartment after midnight one night.
Mahon did not elaborate and the LSC has not responded to a request for comment.
Thatcher made a complaint to Allens immediately after the 2015 incidents and the firm accepted her version of events. But she was still required to work with Leschke afterward and so soon left.
Allens has previously said Leschke was disciplined but the firm later promoted him. Allens does not list Leschke on its website, though his LinkedIn profile indicates he is still at the firm.
“I have had a really hard time wrapping my head around this decision. It has devastated me, frankly,” Thatcher said of this month’s decision by the LSC.
“I consider this to be an appalling and disgusting decision by the LSC and a troubling precedent.”
She noted that the LSC said Leschke’s conduct should not be tolerated and that it is “looking to ways of addressing such conduct in the profession, and also how we can, as a professional regulatory body, encourage better behaviour and awareness around what is inappropriate conduct.”
Thatcher dismissed the regulator’s statement.
“With all due respect to the LSC, it would be very difficult to find a single person who wouldn’t be ‘aware’ that such creepy, alarming and random behaviour is ‘inappropriate,’” she said.
Leschke admitted to deleting the text messages to Thatcher from his mobile phone and denied that the deletion of the messages was an attempt to thwart an investigation into his behaviour. But the LSC said it’s unlikely that a disciplinary case would result in a finding that this amounted to unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct. Mahon also said there is insufficient evidence to establish that Leschke was being dishonest with Allens when he told the firm that he could not remember the events being investigated by them.
“I appreciate that these events have an ongoing impact on you. It is certainly concerning conduct and this type of personal conduct should not be tolerated,” Mahon wrote in her letter to Thatcher.
Sexual harassment in the legal profession has come into sharp focus in Australia in the past two years, following Thatcher’s revelations and news that former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon had sexually harassed several associates.
Allens declined to comment. Leschke did not respond to a request for comment.