Julia Irvine 28 Sep 2018 05:35pm

Ex partner accuses EY of “trashing” her in the media

Ex EY US partner Karen Ward has accused the Big Four firm of being “out of touch” with society’s increased support for women who are subjected to sexual harassment

In a strongly-worded letter to EY Global chairman and chief executive Mark Weinberger, she accused the firm of “trashing” her in the media after she lodged a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint against the firm in the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Monday.

“While one might expect to be bullied by political or Hollywood elites, EY is the third largest accounting firm in the world and employs more than 250,000 people,” she wrote.

“Being an employer of that magnitude and scope carries with it a moral obligation to lead by example and be at the forefront of social justice movements. Taking cheap shots at victims of discrimination and harassment only serves to make it less likely that women will come forward and report this kind of conduct in the future.”

She added that the firm’s conduct was protecting the perpetrators of discrimination and harassment, “as well as the many men at EY who stood by and did nothing to stop it”. “Is that the moral ground upon which EY wants to stand?”

Ward also challenged Weinberger over his tweet on 8 March 2017 in which he said that he didn’t want his daughter to think that she didn’t have every opportunity that his sons had. “Yet you run a company that treats women as second class citizens as a matter of course.

“Women are paid substantially less than men at EY, and men dominate EY’s leadership. It is no wonder that men who engage in discrimination and harassment are protected, and that women who report it are subjected to retaliation.

“I encourage you to ask yourself whether you would want your daughter working in an environment in which men are permitted to openly demean and disparage women, and how you would feel if your daughter’s employer maligned her in the media if she chose to stand up for her rights?”

In the letter, Ward also asked Weinberger to voluntarily release her from the arbitration clause in her partnership agreement, so that she can pursue her claims in open court, rather than via secret arbitration.

She argued that by holding the arbitration behind closed doors rather than in front of a jury of her peers, the firm was giving those who harass and discriminate against women the comfort of secrecy.

And she invited Weinberger and the members of EY’s board to meet her to discuss her experiences at EY and consider ways in which they could work with her to make EY a better place to work for women.

“EY has stated, ‘We take all allegations of sexual harassment seriously’,” she added. “If EY truly does take allegations of sexual harassment seriously, it will not require its female employees to file and pursue such claims behind closed doors in arbitration.”

EY said it had nothing to add beyond its statement in response to the initial complaint.

Michael Willemin, a partner in Wigdor LLP who is representing Ward, described the firm’s refusal to comment as “telling”.

“As Ms Ward wrote, forced arbitration agreements only protect companies and individuals that commit sexual harassment and discrimination, and hurt the victims of such unlawful conduct,” he said.

“Requiring the victim of sexual harassment to arbitrate her claims in a secret proceeding is morally wrong. We again call on EY to waive the arbitration provision so that Ms Ward can have her day in court.”