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EY Switzerland Suspends Chief Talent Officer Accused of Sexual Harassment

The chief talent officer at EY Switzerland was suspended by the firm today pending an independent investigation into sexual harassment allegations made by a former EY female associate, who claims the male executive made inappropriate comments about her breasts, made sexual advances toward her, and then bullied her when she rejected him, according to published reports.

The allegations come just days after EY in the United Kingdom revealed that the firm had fired five partners over the past four years for inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment and bullying.

Stefan Marc Schmid is the chief talent officer at EY Switzerland, according to the firm’s website. A report today on the Zurich financial news website Inside Paradeplatz did not name Schmid as the EY executive accused of sexual harassment, but it did refer to him as “S.” and said, “As the talent officer of EY Switzerland, he was in charge of all personnel matters. He sat on the management board of the Swiss national company.”

According to Schmid’s LinkedIn profile, which has since been deleted, he is a managing partner and the chief talent officer at EY Switzerland, and it states that he is a member of the Swiss executive management team at EY.

Schmid could not be reached for comment.

Yvonne Diaz, EY’s global media relations director, did not confirm nor deny that Schmid is the suspended executive. She emailed the following statement to Going Concern this morning:

“EY is committed to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment of any kind. We are aware of the allegations concerning a Swiss partner and former employee. New information has been brought to our attention and we are thoroughly investigating. The individual who is the subject of the charge has been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of our investigation. We take all allegations of sexual harassment seriously. Once we conclude our investigation, strong disciplinary actions will be taken against anyone we determine to have violated our policies and/or our Code of Conduct.”

The sexual harassment allegations at EY Switzerland were reported earlier this week by the Swiss German-language newspaper Tages-Anzeiger.

Inside Paradeplatz published an internal EY email sent today by Christine Martel, on behalf of Julie Linn Teigland, regional managing partner for Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, which said the sexual harassment claim “was investigated by EY Switzerland in 2016 and also reviewed in 2018 following a report to our ethics hotline. The allegations were found to be not upheld based on the information available at that time. However, recent news coverage has presented new claims and allegations.”

The email said that a third-party law firm will be conducting a thorough investigation into the allegations.

The alleged victim worked at EY for a year and a half, according to Tages-Anzeiger. The accused executive was a partner at the time but was eventually promoted to a position where he is currently “responsible for human resources, promotion, and bonus processes,” the article states.

In spring 2016, the female associate, who was 29 years old at that time, began to work indirectly for the executive. He would call her “Barbie” because of her blond hair and slender figure, which she didn’t like, according to the article, which refers to the alleged victim as “X.” and the accused executive as “Boss”:

[Article translated from German to English]

It begins with compliments, invitations to his boat on Lake Zurich, remarks about her figure, her complexion, her “assets”, even to colleagues. For example, in the canteen, when she wants to grab a sandwich, she notices: “Your figure is not yet bikini-ripe.” On 24 May 2016, he orders her by text message in a café at the main station, it’s about documents, which she should hand over to him. As he sits in the office next door, X. brings him the papers right past. “Boss” reacts angrily, which intimidates X. She wants to stick to the rules, she does not want any stress. But he repeatedly asks her to give him documents after closing time in a bar, and she does. She writes to him, for example, “I will not have time for coffee, but do not worry, I bring the documents.”

The executive would also call the female associate on her cellphone at home, even late at night, the article states:

For example, he calls her from a taxi in Hong Kong and asks her to talk to him, talk to him or he will call another coworker. She replies that she has a lot to do, but she does not want to complain that it’s summer, 25 degrees. Then he [said]: “25 degrees, a perfect opportunity to show your <Assets> in a skirt 😉 ;-)» The investigation report of EY, in which this newspaper had insight, confirms the allegation. There it explains: «Assets = breasts».

In June 2016, the alleged victim politely made it clear to the executive that she did not want “inappropriate contact” with him. This allegedly pissed him off:

At the beginning of June 2016, [he warned] her [in his office]: “Do not try to destroy my reputation. If someone leaves EY, that’s you, not me,” [H]e threatens her according to the investigation report. Repeatedly, she storms out of his office crying, which occupies at least one source. The unprofessional behavior continues, according to the report. [He] orders her to informal and private meetings, where [he told her]: “By the way, I find it unbelievable that you do not want to have sex with me.” Or, “I could replace you with any other employee right away.”

In mid-July 2016, the female associate sought psychiatric help, and EY was told that the alleged victim’s “strong psychological burden … does not allow the patient to return to work for medical reasons.” In August, she told EY’s human resources department about the harassment and bullying, and an internal investigation was conducted, according to Tages-Anzeiger:

EY does not deny the case. In various discussions … [there] appeared [to be] different explanation strategies. At first it was said that the case had been a “consensual affair among adults.” … Then it was corrected that it was not an affair but merely “mutual communication.”

In mid-October 2016, the investigation in case X. was completed. The investigative report states: “There was a lack of exemplary behavior on both sides in terms of ambiguous and inappropriate text messages.” X. did not return to work because that was not possible for her as long as “Boss” was working there. In September 2016, she was offered six monthly wages when she left. She also asked for four additional months as compensation for personal suffering and satisfaction.

At the end of 2016, the company actually paid out ten months’ wages plus holiday compensation – a very generous exit package for a female employee who worked in the company for almost two years. The company had its own justification for the payment. According to EY’s research report, “The financial package was defined with the aim of being able to seek new employment without any financial worries.” [“Boss”] received a warning, but in January 2017 he was promoted anyway.

EY U.S. has also been at the center of two sexual harassment complaints this year by former female partners.

Last April, Jessica Casucci filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing fellow partner John Martinkat of sexually assaulting her in front of two other male partners in a hotel bar in Orlando while they were on a business trip in 2015.

After the encounter, Martinkat continued the harassment with calls, texts, and emails asking Casucci to come to his hotel room to have sex.

Casucci and EY reached a settlement in May. As part of the settlement, Casucci agreed to leave the firm. Monetary terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Martinkat was eventually fired by EY.

Then in September, Karen Ward filed a complaint with the EEOC, accusing EY of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation. She alleges that her first supervisor at EY, principal Michael McNamara, made lewd comments about her breasts, frequently suggested that she accompany him to strip clubs, texted her at 2 a.m. while on a work trip asking her to meet him for drinks, and regularly used offensive language around her.

McNamara was fired by EY in 2015.