Taken to the cleaners

A senior associate at Baker & McKenzie in London sent an email to a secretary asking her to pay £4 for drycleaning his trousers after she accidentally spilt tomato sauce on them.

His email and her reply have been widely leaked – see reports at cnn.com and in the Times.

bq. “Dear Jenny,” he wrote. “I went to the dry-cleaners at lunch and they said it would cost £4 to remove the ketchup stains.” He wrote that it would be “much appreciated” if he could have the money back.

bq. Ms Amner replied: “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.” She went on: “I apologise 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.”

bq. One staff member confided: “She (Ms Amner) copied it to the whole floor and everyone was in stitches. She had come into work this morning to find a Post-it chasing her for the £4 after having the funeral the day before. He’s so tight.”

Thanks to Ingmar.

17 thoughts on “Taken to the cleaners

  1. To be a lone voice sticking up for Richard Phillips, I wonder whether Miss, Ms or Mrs Amner realises the basic moral as well as legal imperative of ‘the causer pays’, whether or not she has been to a funeral, her cat has been sick the night before or the tomato ketchup ‘victim’ was a penniless beggar on the Aldwych, where indeed B&M’s offices used to be.

  2. I discovered that the website Roll On Friday had the whole story *without* names, but the names have hit the press. She is Mrs Amner, if this is of interest, and about 50. I gather from the reports that he not only emailed her for the money but put a post-it note on her computer so she would find it the day after the funeral. So I don’t think it’s easy to decide. One would like to know more about the circumstances of the tomato-sauce incident. Personally, I would be inclined to tip a bottle over his head and give him five quid for a shampoo.

  3. Better still, Mrs Amner should be allowed to keep the money and buy a copy of Prof. P.S. Atiyah’s classic: Accidents, Compensation and the Law. There refs. in it to drivers of Rolls Royces splashing pedestrians and being suitably punished for being rich.

  4. I do think this one is true. Interesting footnote at Snopes: that he is leaving the firm but the decision predated the tomato sauce, and that she is also reconsidering her future with the firm after being made to feel isolated by colleagues who believe Mr. Phillips was unfairly victimized. Both have been given temporary leave from work.

  5. It DOES matter when a Miss or Mrs suddenly turns in an employment dispute into a bad-tempered women’s libber disguised as a Ms in the mass media. Over to you…

  6. Oh, rubbish – you’re living in the past.

    I suspect the Times didn’t know she was married. It seems to be the paper that chose the Ms and their style guide says:

    >>Ms is nowadays fully acceptable when a woman wants to be called thus, or when it is not known for certain if she is Mrs or Miss.

  7. Dear Frau Margaret. Thanks for the enlightenment. I, as an MCP and former business journalist, thought Ms was newspaper code for a rampant feminist.

    Yours, Fräulein Adrian M. – as per invitations to the Berlin Expo a.k.a. Frau Adrian M. – as per Austrian funeral-expenses insurance proposals (Trauer-Vorsorgeversicherung)that I cannot impress on an Au ins. co. would, as interpreted in the UK, not be taken as covering me, but my wife who has no intention of kicking the bucket in the near future.

    Let us be gender-centred/ centered when it matters!

  8. Well, as I say, I think the Times didn’t know if she was married or not. I had no idea you were implying it was a deliberate journalistic ploy. I thought you meant that she was a ‘women’s libber’ (whatever that means nowadays) and insisted on the title. I suppose we will never know.
    As for Ms being code for a ‘rampant feminist’, no doubt about those for whom that term is meaningful, that is what they will think.

  9. Yes to the journalistic ploy. I had noticed over the years a trend of UK industrial tribunal case reports using the ‘status-free’ label of Ms. that I took to be a euphemism for a woman trouble-maker at the workplace. No doubt Mrs Amner was nothing of the sort.

  10. Actually, you must be right, since the end of the Times article makes it clear she is married, so they could have called her Mrs. – unless she prefers Ms and they knew that. I see cnn.com uses ‘Jenny Amner’ and ‘Amner’.You can address me as Dr. if you like, though.

  11. Selbstverständlich, Frau Doktorin! I forgot the Doctor title – even if clocked up in London? – becomes part of the name in Germany. I knew one Frau Med. Doktorin who used to fly into a rage if she wasn’t addressed as such, in speech or in writing.

  12. You could hardly forget it if you’re in Vienna, I suppose? But in any case, since when do we address each other in German?The legal position is affected by EU law, under which titles should be mutually recognized. Bavarian law would prefer me to write Dr. (London) Margaret Marks. Incidentally, I don’t usually use it, but employers and landlords like to – it reached my bank from my employer in the old days when I would have had to pay 93 DM to put Ph.D. after my name – where, again, I see slight chance of them suing me.

  13. Well, Frau Dr(in) phil. London, titles as used by Viennese waiters are often sham courtesy and hospitality: ‘What can I fetch for you, Herr Professor/Frau Hofrätin’ to an offduty dustman/ charlady.

    It would certainly have been Frau Drin med. doing the suing for title misuse and not the authorities.

  14. Lucy Kellaway addresses Ketchupgate in her column in today’s FT. She points out that it’s what we *don’t* know that makes the story interesting, rather than the alleged details that have been published. Which leads to the following questions:

    – If you spill ketchup on somebody’s clothes (and how on earth do you manage to do that in the first place?), isn’t it normal courtesy to offer to pay the dry cleaning costs? As Lucy K. points out, the lawyer’s e-mail would indicate that this is what happened.
    – Where on earth can you get a pair of trousers cleaned for four quid? As Lucy K. points out, not in the suburbs, so hardly likely in the City.
    – If somebody’s been away from the office for a few days due to a sudden death in the family, that sort of news travels fast, even to “senior associates” (which if I remember correctly aren’t *that* high up the ladder in the first place. AMM: correct me if I’m wrong).

    At any rate, Lucy Kellaway correctly identifies the hidden power of e-mail and suggests that if you have to use e-mail, don’t do it for anything more important than the office stationery order.

    It’s rather like the e-mails we get from customers with extremely sensitive business-cricital corporate material in an unencrypted, non-password-protected Word file, and the e-mail header says “Extremely Confidential, Do Not Forward To Third Parties” (sometimes all caps). We’ve been trying to educate our customers, but are having very little success. One of our banking customers has told us they’re aware of the issue, but their IT people won’t let them send encrypted or password-protected files through the firewall !!!

  15. I’m unsure, Robin, about Senior Associates not being that high up the ladder i.e. at B&M. Their website gives no clues. ‘In my City of London day’, there were – in the pecking order -Assistant Solicitors who, if long-serving, would nowadays in the huge ‘Magic Circle’ firms turn into (nasty, promotion-frustrated) ‘Senior Associates’ – one rung down from (nasty, promotion-frustrated) Junior Partners who go gunning for (pleasant made-it) Senior Partnership.

    Many Assistant Sols. gunning for partnership leave such firms to take up salaried or equity partnerships elsewhere, often in provincial towns.

    Oddly, the B&M website refers to the Chairman and not Senior Partner of the global operation, though it may be have sthg to do with corporate and not LLP status in the US/UK.

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