It’s rare, especially these days, that bipartisan lawmakers can agree on an issue, but in the case of EY sexual harassment lawsuits they’ve managed to do just that.
In a letter to new EY Chairman and CEO Carmine Di Sibio, 67 New York State Legislators, led by Senators Liz Krueger and Alessandra Biaggi, and Assemblymembers Aravella Simotas and Jo Anne Simon rebuked EY’s “culture of harassment and discrimination,” calling into question the firm’s so-called “Women. Fast Forward” policy.
The nastygram was prompted in part by the arbitration agreement that could end up costing accusing partner Karen Ward $200,000 to see her case through, whereas it would have cost her just $450 to file her sexual harassment and gender discrimination case against EY in court.
Bramwell wrote last month:
As a condition of her employment, Ward signed an arbitration provision that took away her right to sue EY in court. After she filed her harassment and discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last September, Ward wrote an open letter to then-EY CEO and Chairman Mark Weinberger asking him to end forced arbitration for victims of sexual misconduct and discrimination at EY, as well as to release her from the arbitration agreement. The firm denied her request, forcing her to file her claims in arbitration.
Since the time Ward’s contract was signed, New York State has passed legislation to ban the future use of such forced arbitration agreements in cases of harassment and discrimination.
In case you need a reminder of the type of behavior Ward is alleging, The Daily Beast is so kind as to catch us up:
Ward’s supervisor at various times told her that she was “really hot,” that he loved her “great big round boobs,” and that she had a “nice ass,” according to her 21-page Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed at the time.
Ward alleged that it was “regular practice” for her male coworkers “to brag that they were able to situate their chairs in such a way that they were able to see a junior female employee’s vagina, or, as they disgustingly referred to it, her ‘snatch.’”
EY denies the allegations, calling them “unfounded and baseless.”
“For all the progress women have made to achieve equality in the workplace, some companies still have not gotten the memo that the days of the boys’ club are over,” said Senator Krueger. “It is 2019, not 1959, and it is simply unacceptable to perpetuate a culture of harassment and discrimination at work. Ernst & Young claims to be a leader on gender equity, yet their forced arbitration requirements effectively slam shut the doors on their employees’ access to justice. They can and must do better.”
The letter continues:
Ernst & Young ostensibly created the “Women. Fast Forward” program to “highlight [y]our own commitment to the advancement of women in the workplace” and to “offer leadership and guidance as [you] call upon others to put gender on their agenda.” However, Ernst & Young cannot be a leader on gender equality while it is so far behind the curve in addressing workplace harassment and continues to place barriers in the way of victims who are merely seeking a fair chance at justice.
We urge Ernst & Young to reconsider its outdated approach to addressing gender inequity and show that it is committed to providing all employees with a harassment-free workplace by ensuring they have access to our justice system to address discrimination claims. Ernst & Young’s current policy of outrageously expensive, binding arbitration imposes impossible burdens on those who seek relief. It is time for Ernst & Young to move beyond lip service and make the systemic changes necessary to truly be a leader in addressing inequality in the workplace.
The full letter can be found below.