America First Legal, the nonprofit group founded in 2021 by President Trump’s senior advisor Stephen Miller, has sent a strongly worded letter addressed to Tim Ryan accusing his firm of “unlawfully discriminating based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sex in its hiring, promotion, training, and procurement decisions.” The group then calls for PwC to “immediately instruct the partnership to cease and desist from violating our civil rights laws.”
First, the press release:
Today, America First Legal’s (AFL) Center for Legal Equality sent a cease and desist letter to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) demanding they stop using racial preferences in hiring and internship programs.
PwC is an internationally recognized name as one of the “Big Three” accounting firms. But in the United States, they are among one of the worst offenders when it comes to implementing racially discriminatory practices. Not only does PwC have two explicitly race-based internship programs (i.e., one must be a certain race to qualify), but it also administers a third and its principal internship program in a discriminatory manner. Furthermore, PwC has hiring and promotion quotas based on race and sex, discriminating against individuals at every step of their careers.
In light of recent Supreme Court of the United States cases on this topic, AFL sent a notice letter to Tim Ryan, the Chair of the U.S. Board for PwC, alerting him that these practices expose the firm to lawsuits and the partners to personal liability. The letter is also an open letter to the partnership, encouraging them to push back against these racist policies. It is also an open letter to PwC employees and applicants, urging them to come to AFL to seek representation if they are denied a job or promotion due to their race.
The Supreme Court decision they reference was in regards to “race-conscious” admissions at higher education institutions.
“Over the decades, PwC earned a reputation for integrity and excellence,” said Reed D. Rubinstein, Senior Counselor and Director of Oversight and Investigations. “But the evidence suggests that the partnership’s current leadership is prepared to burn it all on the altar of woke. Workplace discrimination and contracting based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sex are always immoral and illegal. But PwC has failed to catch this basic and self-evident truth, leading one naturally to wonder — what else have the accountants missed?”
The letter [PDF] calls out several PwC programs by name, like the Start Internship tagged “PwC’s diversity internship experience” on the firm’s site. Let’s check it out:
PwC’s official website reports at least four facially unlawful employment programs: the “Start Internship”, the “Advance Internship”, the “While You Work – CPA Acceleration Program”, and the “Enrich” program. Also, the partnership’s official statements — styled “Purpose and Inclusion Reports” for FY 2021 and FY 2022 — contain disturbing evidence of unlawful racial, national origin, religious, and sexbased quotas in hiring, promotion, and other business practices. Either the partnership is affirmatively misrepresenting its hiring and promotion practices or admitting to egregious and morally indefensible violations of the law. There is no third alternative.
PwC advertises its Start Internship Program as the “first step in PwC’s Internship Experience” for college sophomores and rising juniors. Therefore, the Start Internship Program is an “apprenticeship or other training program” under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(2)(d). The law provides that it is an unlawful employment practice for PwC to “discriminate against any individual because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in admission to, or employment in, any program established to provide apprenticeship or other training.” However, PwC’s “Eligibility” tab for this program states that for a prospective student “[t]o be eligible for the Start internship,” that student “must self-identify as a member” of an “underrepresented racial and ethnic minority group.” The page clarifies that these include only “Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander, or two or more races.” Persons with white skin and who “self-identify” as non-Spanish European or American, and anyone of Asian background and/or national origin, are unlawfully excluded. In fact, of the 1,007 students who participated in the Start Internship in FY22, fewer than 10% were white. Considering that the Start Internship is 2% of the size of the entire firm’s reported employment—and the program undoubtedly is a pipeline for new hires— PwC’s conduct is unlawful.
In a separate letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [PDF] — which they erroneously address to the “Equal Opportunity Employment Commission” — the group complains about PwC’s While You Work CPA Acceleration program, a paid part-time fellowship collab between PwC and Northeastern University that helps self-identified Black and/or Latinx individuals get their 150 units for CPA licensure.
From AFL’s letter to the EEOC:
PwC’s website and Inclusion Report also advertise the “While You Work—CPA Acceleration Program.” “This unique one-year program is designed to provide a path for eligible individuals who … identify as an underrepresented minority, to obtain additional credit hours and a Master’s Degree while working at PwC.” Under the “Fellowship eligibility” tab, the website clarifies that, “[y]ou are eligible to apply for the CPA Acceleration program if you self-identify as Black and/or Latinx [sic].” Accepted students “earn a tuition-paid master’s degree in accounting … [w]hile they work part time at PwC” to “earn the final 30 credit hours” needed “to meet the 150 credit hour requirement for a CPA license.” Or as Leah Houde, PwC Chief Learning Officer said, “We pay their tuition, so they come out of it with zero additional debt. Participants earn credit, gain work experience and get competitive compensation the entire time, while earning their master’s.” This program facially violates both 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(a)(2) and 2000e(d).
PwC inexplicably takes pride in discriminating against white, Asian, and (apparently) Jewish men with respect to their compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, and in limiting, segregating, or classifying them in ways that deprive or tend to deprive them of employment opportunities because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Its self-reported data shows a pervasive and unlawful focus on immutable characteristics at all levels, including associate, senior associate, manager, senior manager, director, and managing director.22 Similar trends appear in PwC’s workforce and promotion data. For example, the FY21 PwC Purpose Report states, “While we have made some progress year-overyear, we did see a decrease in our experienced hires for women (44% to 38%) and our Latinx experienced hires (8% to 7%) from FY20 to FY21. We want to course correct.” The very next year, PwC touted its “focus on diversity” and boasted that it was “able to increase the proportion of women, racially/ethnically diverse [sic]” hires. PwC claimed that among the 8,041 “Experienced Hires” in FY22, 43% were white,27 down from 49% in FY19.
Here’s PwC’s FY22 Purpose and Inclusion Report for anyone curious.
The accounting profession has long been accused of being too white. Advocacy and outreach group the National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants says it’s difficult to know for sure but frequently cited figures put the number of Black CPAs in the United States at three percent at most or one percent at least. “And whether you think the answer is 1% or 3% the constant is the representation of Black CPAs is horrendous and we need to do something about it,” reads their website.
The 2021 AICPA Trends report says diverse hiring of new bachelor’s and master’s of accounting graduates into accounting/finance functions at US CPA firms increased by almost five percentage points (includes multiethnic hires) compared to its report two years prior and that Asian or Pacific Islander, Black or African American, and Hispanic or Latino new graduate new hires in accounting have all increased by near one or more percentage points (1.9, 0.6, 1.6 percentage points, respectively). Those three groups comprise their highest (or very near their highest) percentage of the whole of new graduate new hires in the history of Trends’ data collection. The AICPA has offered its Fellowship for Minority Doctoral Students program since 1969 to ensure that CPAs of diverse backgrounds are visible in college and university classrooms. For the 2021–22 academic year, the AICPA awarded scholarships to 25 full-time accounting doctoral-level students, totaling $300,000. And that’s not the only program the AICPA operates to introduce students of diverse backgrounds to accounting as a profession and to assist those individuals with tuition (on top of the many, many AICPA scholarships available to people of all backgrounds). So expect AFL to go after them next.
AFL encourages any PwC employees or applicants who believe they have been denied employment or promotion because of their skin color or sex to contact America First Legal at https://aflegal.org/hotline/. If anyone does contact them please report back.
Full letter to PwC embedded down here: