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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Offensive e-mail lands law firm in trouble
justice and e-mail
One message is leading a firm of lawyers to a tribunal
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

An offensive e-mail message could land a city law firm with unlimited damages for racial and sexual discrimination.

Two lawyers at London law firm Charles Russell are being taken to an industrial tribunal over an e-mail message in which they asked for a "busty blonde" to replace their black secretary.

The secretary saw the message, and has now decided to take the firm to a tribunal because it left her too distraught to continue working.

The law firm said it will "vigorously defend" itself against the action.

Distraught worker

Charles Russell is facing the tribunal after a 32-year-old secretary accidentally read an e-mail message written by lawyer Adam Dowdney soon after the woman announced her intention to resign.

The mail message said: "Can we go for a real fit busty blonde this time? She can't be any more trouble and at least it would provide some entertainment!".

After seeing the message the woman complained to the head of personnel at the firm, and received letters of apology from Mr Dowdney and his colleague Charles Hopewell who she also worked for.

Both Mr Dowdney and Mr Hopewell have since dismissed the e-mail as a "thoughtless joke".

But the woman was rendered so distraught by the message that her doctor declared her too ill to work. She is now taking the case to an industrial tribunal that will hear the case next year.

If the tribunal finds for the woman it has the power to reward her with unlimited damages. The law firm said it would mount a vigorous defence against the charges.

See also:

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That joke isn't funny anymore
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Racism rife 25 years on
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