PwC Australia Pays Up For Being Cads

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Former tax partner set for historic payout after PwC settles harassment case

I hadn’t written about this case much, although it’s a very interesting one. Many say that race and sex discrimination in business are things of the past. After all, if we can have a black man and a woman as potential Democratic Presidential candidates in the US, how can there be any glass ceiling or discrimination? Those days are in the past, no?

Cases like this remind all of us that whatever progress we have had in the US, and it’s illusory in my opinion, progress is not necessarily the norm worldwide. Companies and professional firms that operate globally are subject to the local culture and customs of all the places they operate in.

For example, can you eliminate corruption in developing countries? PwC Malaysia can make a big deal in the press about their adoption of PwC’s Global Ethics policies, but tell that to their clients and government officials. It’s not easy.

The examples of discrimination cited in this article about the female former PwC Australia Tax partner seem fairly mild to me. But they are real and they were actionable. Ms. Rich did not deserve to be, nor should she have been, treated any differently than her male colleagues just because she has a vagina. 

Professional services firms, in particular partnerships, are theoretically the last bastion of meritocracies. 
Because they are “professional” services firms, emphasis on the “professional.”  The client is supposed to come first according to the “professional” code of ethics.  

Meritocracy is a system of a government or another organization wherein appointments are made and responsibilities are given based on demonstrated ability (merit) and talent rather than by wealth (plutocracy), family connections (nepotism), class privilege, cronyism, popularity (as in democracy[dubious – discuss]) or other historical determinants of social position and political power.”

When I joined KPMG Consulting in 1993, my strong impression was that it didn’t matter whether I was a woman, green or had sixteen toes. If I could bring in business and get it done well, I would succeed at the firm. And I did, as the first, and still only, female Managing Director for their successor firm, BearingPoint, in Latin America. I won’t ever forget the faith that those partners had in me.

In fact, I was almost always greeted by a kiss on the cheek in Mexico, by a kiss on each cheek in Argentina, (they’re the Italian Latins,) and by three kisses, one on each cheek and then a third for good luck, in Brazil. I accepted it, from men and women, as a sign of acceptance. In fact, I had to break the habit whenever I was in the US, since some of my male colleagues here were a little surprised when I greeted them warmly with a kiss on the cheek. LOL

I am sorry Ms. Rich did not receive the respect and camaraderie of her “colleagues” at PwC Australia. I hope the settlement provides some level of comfort and gratification.

CHRISTINA Rich walked into a Sydney court with a large smile and it did not leave her face throughout the long-awaited settlement of her landmark sexual harassment claim against accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Ms Rich, a former tax partner who worked at the company for nine years, had been seeking $11 million from PwC for damage to her reputation, loss of clients, lost earnings and counselling after a series of alleged sexual harassment incidents from 1999 to 2004. The parties reached a settlement after a three-year case in the Federal Court in Sydney, following mediation last week.

The terms of the settlement were secret and both parties were bound by confidentiality agreements. But an industry insider who is highly experienced in sexual harassment cases claimed the payout would have been worth several million dollars — one of the largest in a discrimination case in Australian history.

Ms Rich, who was at one time the company’s highest-paid female employee, had alleged it had a “boys’ club” culture of sexual harassment and victimisation. She accused some partners of making unwanted sexual advances and saying she won work because of her breasts.

Ms Rich also claimed that one partner, Stuart Edwards, had refused her permission to attend numerous conferences, had kissed her as a greeting despite her protestations, and had said another partner’s performance would be affected by her being pregnant…

Ms Rich was reportedly paid more than $900,000 a year for advising companies on their international tax arrangements. She had been a partner at PwC for seven years. The industry expert, who did not wish to be named, said the fact she was such a high earner and had been out of work for several years following her employment at PwC, would have given her the right to “a good monetary claim”..