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Clutz partnership loses first round in defamation action

Clutz partnership loses first round in defamation action

A former Clayton Utz lawyer has been granted leave to file an amended statement of claim in defamation proceedings against the firm.Bridgette Styles, a graduate solicitor with Clayton Utz…

A former Clayton Utz lawyer has been granted leave to file an amended statement of claim in defamation proceedings against the firm.

Bridgette Styles, a graduate solicitor with Clayton Utz between August 2007 and December 2008, filed a statement of claim in September 2009 for defamation arising from two alleged publications. Her claim names 217 defendants, with all but one of those being current or former partners of the firm.

The original claim from Styles alleges that in September 2008, Luis Izzo, a solicitor with the firm, went to Joe Catanzariti, the head of the workplace relations, employment and safety practice group, with allegations that Styles was "conspiring" against a group of lawyers with regard to a sexual harassment complaint.

It is further alleged by Styles that the next day Izzo sent an email to a human resources manager - at the request of Catanzariti - that contained 16 defamatory imputations against her.

Styles claims that as the email sent by Izzo was at the direction of Catanzariti, the partnership as a whole is responsible for any defamatory consequences.

The NSW Supreme Court heard that in her proposed amended statement of claim, Styles claims this email was then circulated to many members of the firm and the "general population" of legal practitioners of Sydney.

In one particular instance, Styles alleges the "sense and substance of the email" was republished through discussions by partners at a public bar "in the vicinity of the offices of the partnership". Styles also said the "sense and substance" of the email was republished by herself in circumstances where she was under a social and moral duty to do so in order to truthfully answer queries as to why she was not at work.

Styles claims Clayton Utz are liable for the republications.

Clayton Utz objected to the proposed amended statement of claim, arguing it was defective in a way that seriously prejudices them.

This argument was rejected by Justice Carolyn Simpson and she granted Styles leave to file an amended statement of claim.

Justice Simpson dismissed the contention by Clayton Utz that the republications were in fact an original publication, and also found the argument by the firm about the definition of "republication" or original publication" in instances where Styles relayed the contents of the email herself was "not a matter to be determined on a pleading argument, but will be determined in the light of evidence in her trial".

Clayton Utz declined to comment when contacted by Lawyers Weekly, and Rebecca Styles was unavailable for comment. Styles is now a solicitor with Johnson Winter & Slattery.

This allegation of personal misconduct that Clayton Utz is dealing with comes following a NSW Administrative Appeals Tribunal which granted leave to a former employee, Michael Mitchell, to pursue claims against former colleagues for disability discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation.

In April this year, the New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal ruled that Mitchell could not add the names of other current and former lawyers of Clayton Utz to the complaint, including Grant Fuzi, who left the firm to become the managing partner of Allen & Overy's Australian offices in February.

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