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Ex-EY partner calls for talks after sexual harassment claim

Former EY partner Karen Ward has called on EY to practise what it preaches with regards to gender discrimination in an open letter to the firm seen by US trade press title Going Concern.

Ward, who worked at EY in the US for five years and was a partner before her employment was terminated, has complained to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over numerous instances of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour, among other things.

In her complaint, filed last week, Ward alleged the male leadership team in the Transaction Real Estate (TRE) team she worked in regularly entertained clients at bars or in strip clubs, and made derogatory remarks about the appearance of female staff.

She alleges that her complaints resulted in her being moved into a separate team where she found herself in competition with TRE and starved of support.

Eventually her contract was terminated, purportedly because her business was ‘not profitable,’ however Ward claims that throughout her time at EY she was responsible for approximately $50m in fees paid to EY. This included $5m in July 2018, shortly after the close of the 2018 financial year but the month before her termination.

What is more, she alleged that at EY she was subject to discriminatory pay practises, claiming she earned almost $400,000 less than similarly situated male peers, something Ward said was ‘consistent with EY’s documented pattern and practise of paying women less than men for equal work.’

She is being represented by US law firm Wigdor.

Michael J. Willemin, partner at Wigdor said:  “EY is led almost entirely by men who foster and promote a ‘boys club’ culture where women are unpaid and subjected to constant discrimination and sexual harassment.  To protect the men that engage in this conduct, EY openly retaliates against women who are courageous enough to stand up for their rights and complain.  It is particularly offensive in this day and age for a company to attempt to bully and intimidate women into staying silent.  Ms. Ward will not stay silent.”

Now, in an open letter seen by Going Concern, Ward has challenges EY to release her from an arbitration provision contained in her partnership agreement so she can pursue the claims in court rather than behind closed doors.

In the same letter, Ward called on global chairman and CEO Mark Weinberger to have a sit down discussion of her experiences at EY, and look at ways they could work together to make EY a better place to work for women.

Pointing to a quote from Weinberger in 2017 saying “I don’t want my daughter to think that she doesn’t have every opportunity that my sons have,” Ward’s letter said:

“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?”

The International Accounting Bulletin has reached out to EY for comment.

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