Lawyer in argument over £4 ketchup stain quits firm

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The Independent Online

The most famous ketchup stain in London has claimed its first victim. Richard Phillips, the City lawyer whose suit was soiled by the misdirected tomato sauce, has resigned from his position, it was announced yesterday.

The most famous ketchup stain in London has claimed its first victim. Richard Phillips, the City lawyer whose suit was soiled by the misdirected tomato sauce, has resigned from his position, it was announced yesterday.

Mr Phillips, 36, had decided to take a "long-planned" study break from work as the spillage continued to exercise the imaginations of some of the most highly paid professionals in London.

The £150,000-a-year senior associate, who is an IT law expert, is said to be humiliated by the media attention surrounding his claim for recompense for his £4 dry cleaning bill from the much lower paid legal secretary.

Jenny Amner, who is in her fifties, copied her withering e-mail reply to Mr Phillips' request for payment to colleagues at the leading law firm Baker & McKenzie. Ms Amner, who was attending her mother's funeral on the day she was contacted by the lawyer, was furious that he had asked for the money.

Colleagues of Ms Amner, who is reported to earn £25,000 a-year, offered to hold a collection to raise the £4 but she declined and paid the sum herself .

Writing to Mr Phillips on 3 June, nine days after the spoilt lunch, she said that she had declined an offer by colleagues to chip in to cover the cleaning bill.

"With reference to the e-mail below, I must apologise for not getting back to you straight away but due to my mother's sudden illness, death and funeral I have had more pressing issues than your £4.

"I apologise again for accidentally getting a few splashes of ketchup on your trousers. Obviously your financial need as a senior associate is greater than mine as a mere secretary."

If he wanted the money, it would be on her desk that afternoon, she told him. The e-mail eventually found its way to various news organisations.

After Ms Amner's e-mail had been circulated, recipients began adding their own comments as they forwarded the note. One said: "This guy should emigrate." The e-mails were also sent to other workers in the City who added their own abusive observations including: "Who said that lawyers get paid too much?"

However, Ms Amner of Bexleyheath, south-east London, is now facing something of a backlash over her decision to go public and is understood to be considering her future with the global law firm. Colleagues have isolated her saying they believe Mr Phillips has been unfairly victimised. Postings on legal internet chat rooms have also heaped scorn on her.

A spokeswoman for Baker & McKenzie said Mr Phillips had decided to leave the firm "long before" the publication of the e-mail exchange. In a statement, the company said: "Richard resigned in early June. He will leave us in September and he is working out his notice.

The statement continued: "He resigned after the e-mail exchange between him and Jenny Amner but before all the publicity. We stress that we did not accept his resignation over this incident."

Both Ms Amner and Mr Phillips have been given leave from work until the row blows over.

Baker & McKenzie is the fifth largest legal company in the world and the average profit share of a partner, one step up from senior associate, is £364,000.

Another London law firm, Norton Rose, demonstrated the destructive power of e-mails in 2000 when Claire Swire, an employee, sent an e-mail to a colleague describing a sex act. The leaked note, forwarded to six other people, went on to be seen by millions of people around the world.