Senior managers at a leading law firm ignored repeated warnings about excessive drinking and inappropriate behaviour at work functions, claims a former employee.

Russell McVeagh is embroiled in allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards young, female clerks.

Chief executive Gary McDiarmid confirmed mid-week that the firm had received "serious allegations" about events in Wellington more than two years ago. He said the company "conducted a full internal investigation" and those who were "subject of the allegations left the firm after the investigation".

But in fresh claims, a former female staffer who worked at the firm for more than four years claimed the company had failed to address other complaints raised about staff conduct.


"Before the allegations of sexual assault surfaced, we banged on about the excessive amount of alcohol being drunk at work functions, but nothing happened," the woman told the Herald on Sunday.

She said she and other colleagues raised concerns regularly with their manager, who was part of the senior management team that included the human resources head and chief executive.

"Our boss referred it to HR and the CEO years ago," she said. "I believe they were aware of the issues but did nothing. I believe they all turned a blind eye."

The woman, who doesn't want to be identified, was part of a team that organised catering for functions.

She said the company had a "boozy culture" while she worked there, which she believed was part of a strategy to lure top law graduates.

"All law firms try to entice the most talented lawyers to work for them. We were told by HR we had to show them a good time," she claimed.

She said she believed it was about getting "the clerks as drunk as possible and get them on to the dance floor; that was a good night".

She claimed that at one induction night, the amount of alcohol requested for the event was tripled.


Only beer and wine was provided at staff and client events but the woman claims she was ordered to provide a bottle of bourbon for a "top-performing partner", who has since left the firm.

She said the man was "talented — a big earner and brought in a lot of business" and believed his behaviour was accepted by management.

Gary McDiarmid. Photo / Supplied
Gary McDiarmid. Photo / Supplied

The former partner did not respond to questions.

After the controversial Christmas party in 2015 and the allegations of sexual assault at a bar a month later, the woman said the the law firm was "tight-lipped" about what allegedly happened.

She said she saw young women crying on several occasions.

"It was three months of hell. It was stressful having to tip-toe around the elephant in the room."

The woman quit not long after.

Last week the firm admitted it was naive not to explicitly tell staff it had a zero-tolerance policy to sexual misconduct. It issued a statement to media outlets and to ex-employees.

McDiarmid declined to comment on the new allegations, referring again to the statement it had released earlier in the week.

Newsroom reported two male lawyers had been the subject of allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards younger, female clerks. They have both left the firm.

Five of the 10 clerks who were offered full-time positions with Russell McVeagh turned them down. Changes have been made to the firm's internship programme after intervention from Victoria University. Alcohol policies have also changed. Meanwhile, other law firms have been issuing edicts to staff about behaviour amid claims the Russell McVeagh case is the tip of the iceberg.

Kensington Swan chief executive Charles Spillane said he sent an email to all staff to remind them of the company's values and zero tolerance for bullying and harassment.

"We need to make sure that everyone understands that and society's just got to move on and be a civilised place for people to love work and enjoy themselves."

Bell Gully also sent a message to staff after the allegations encouraging employees to review its policies.

"Our policies include a code of conduct, a formal harassment complaints procedure and a whistleblower protection policy.

"We also undertake training around workplace expectations and last year introduced an alcohol awareness programme," the company said.

Alan Pettersen, director of HR consultancy Positive People, said the Russell McVeagh allegations had sparked a wider discussion about gender inequality. "It seems now to be beyond individual cases of harassment. It's a bigger issue."