After we recently reported on sexual harassment allegations made against male executives at EY U.S. and EY Switzerland by former female employees, Adrienne and I got an email from a woman by the name of Ana Raquel Villanueva who told us that she, too, was a victim of sexual harassment while employed at EY in India.
I have been following the recent articles Going Concern has published regarding sexual harassment at the workplace and more specifically with Ernst & Young.
I had to resign from my senior position as an Associate Director in the firm because I could no longer tolerate the continuous sexual harassment, and the humiliating and bullying behavior I faced for over 1.5 years from one of Ernst & Young India’s most Senior Partners within the firm.
The partner who Villanueva has accused of sexual harassment is Gaurav Taneja, leader of the Government and Public Sector (GPS) practice at EY India and AIM (Africa, India, and Middle East) Advisory leader for GPS, who was her boss’s boss.
Taneja didn’t respond to a request for comment from Going Concern; however, according to documents that were shared with GC, he has denied all of Villanueva’s allegations and said “he is professional in all his interactions and has never displayed any impropriety with any of his colleagues.”
The first alleged incident happened in early 2017 while Villanueva was alone in Taneja’s office, where he made an inappropriate comment to her, she said. Other instances of bullying and inappropriate behavior—including one incident during a meeting in which Villanueva said Taneja demanded that she give him her hand and then grabbed it to allegedly prove a point about empowerment—occurred with other male executives in the room who did nothing to stop it.
“This is in India, where you cannot be touched,” said Villanueva, who worked at EY India from June 2016 until July 31, 2018.
In accordance with EY’s Global Code of Conduct, Villanueva said she let her supervisor, Thampy Koshy, a partner in the GPS practice, know immediately about each alleged incident she had with Taneja; however, EY countered that Villanueva telling her reporting partner about what happened didn’t constitute a formal complaint against Taneja.
“I followed protocol. I followed EY’s Code of Conduct. As soon as the first incident happened, I went immediately to my reporting partner. That’s a complaint. My boss was not my friend. And I told him it was unacceptable,” she said.
Her case eventually was heard by EY India’s Internal Committee (IC) in July 2018, which interviewed Villanueva and several other people at EY India, but the panel didn’t interview leaders from EY Global who Villanueva included on her witness list, she said.
At the conclusion of its investigation, the IC released a report that included minor reprimands and recommendations under India’s Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013, known as the POSH Act.
“Section 9 of the POSH Act Rules is clear; it states that the IC will give recommendations when the allegations against the accused have been proved under the POSH Act and Rules. Therefore, having EY India’s IC give recommendations and take actions under the POSH Act and Rules is an acknowledgement by EY India that the sexual harassment allegations against the accused took place and were proven by the IC,” Villanueva said.
In addition, she said, “[T]he same recommendations that EY’s IC gave under the POSH Act in their report are also included in EY India’s Code of Conduct in the ‘Policy on Prevention and Prosecution of Acts of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace’ under Section B.III (Punishment for Sexual Harassment). These recommendations and actions are meant to be implemented by EY management only if an employee is found to have violated the aforementioned policy; therefore, proving once again that the allegations against the accused took place and were proven by the IC.”
In October 2018, Villanueva filed an appeal in the Industrial Tribunal Court in New Delhi against EY India and Taneja, challenging the IC’s recommendations. The court is expected to discuss Villanueva’s appeal in mid-April.
In a statement emailed to Going Concern, EY India said:
“EY is committed to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment of any kind. All allegations raised by the claimant, who was on a fixed-term contract in India, were independently assessed by a complaints committee, as required by Indian law, and were found to be unsubstantiated. EY India will defend all allegations and will not be able to provide further comment as the matter is in active legal proceedings.”
But Villanueva claims EY India’s leadership didn’t take her accusations seriously, tried to cover up her case on several occasions, and resorted to intimidation and retaliation against her.
“My case is a clear example where the ‘zero-tolerance policy on harassment of any kind’—in my case, sexual harassment at the workplace—was not implemented by the firm,” she said. “The lack of action from EY India left me with no other choice but to file the appeal in the appropriate court.
“On multiple occasions, I requested Mr. Rajiv Memani, EY India chairman and country managing partner, to implement the zero-tolerance policy under the EY India Code of Conduct and EY Global Code of Conduct against the accused,” Villanueva continued. “Last September, I requested Mr. Memani, on two occasions, to meet me so that I could share the grievances I had on EY’s IC Report and Recommendations before I filed the appeal in the appropriate court. He never met me. EY EMEIA [Europe, Middle East, India and Africa] and EY Global were copied on these communications as well.”
Villanueva also filed a police complaint, which later culminated in the registration of a First Information Report (FIR), against Taneja last September at the Women’s Police Station in Gurugram, Haryana in India, under Section 354-A (Sexual Harassment) and Section 509 (Insulting the Modesty of a Woman) of the Indian Penal Code—both punishable by imprisonment under Indian law. The police investigation is ongoing.
Villanueva talked exclusively to Going Concern about her sexual harassment claims against EY India. In addition, GC reviewed several documents, including the police complaint, the FIR, court filings, and several emails she sent to the leadership of EY India, EY EMEIA, and EY Global.
“He touched me, end of story”
A native of Honduras, Villanueva came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar and spent eight years working at International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group—first in Washington, DC, for six years and then two years in New Delhi.
She was hired by EY India in June 2016 as an associate director, responsible for managing the World Bank Group account for EY’s India region.
It didn’t take Villanueva long to make a name for herself. During her tenure with EY India, the World Bank Group account for the India region became the top-performing World Bank Group account for EY globally, with revenues that increased from $5.6 million in FY 2016 to $8.8 million in FY 2017 and then to $10 million in FY 2018.
Life was good for Villanueva—she had a job at a Big 4 accounting firm that she was very good at; the EY Global World Bank Group account team, based in Washington, DC, and Germany, was pleased with her performance; and she loved working and living in India. “India is home to me,” she said.
But that all changed on a February day in 2017.
Villanueva was told by Koshy that Taneja was upset with her because she was late in providing him with a summary of weekly activities regarding the World Bank Group account.
“I had to report to him every week on my activities, and I didn’t send the weekly update to him for a couple of weeks,” she said.
Villanueva went to Taneja’s office to discuss the agenda for a meeting that was scheduled with several teams across EY EMEIA. After already apologizing to Taneja in writing, she apologized to him in-person for the delay in sending him her weekly activities. She told him she was open to feedback on her performance and asked him if he wanted to see anything different in her weekly reports.
That’s when Taneja allegedly leaned across his desk and said to Villanueva, “What would I get if I forgive you?”
That comment made her extremely uncomfortable, Villanueva said in her police complaint.
I immediately understood the Accused’s hidden intentions and sexual overtures. I knew that any response that I gave … would be construed negatively and would impact my position in the firm. Therefore, I simply thanked him in a polite and courteous manner and left the room. However, I had strong reason to believe that because of the lack of a positive reciprocation on my part to the Accused’s advances, the Accused would soon create difficulties and hurdles for me in my work productivity.
During a World Bank Group account update meeting with Taneja and other colleagues, including her reporting partner, in May 2017, Villanueva had her laptop open to show Taneja a slide presentation she had prepared when he told her he wasn’t interested in seeing it. After she asked to at least show him an overview of the revenue the group had achieved, Taneja allegedly slammed her laptop shut with his hand and said, “Just because you have prepared the presentation doesn’t mean I have to see it.”
Later on during the same meeting, Taneja told her she had to deliver more than 20 single-source/nomination contracts with the World Bank Group in the next fiscal year, according to the complaint.
I told the Accused that to achieve such targets I would need a top-down message coming from him to all the Partners under the Government and Public Sector practice that report to him (over 20 Partners at that time) to be able to get the commitment from the Partners and their teams as we needed to invest significantly in the [World Bank Group] account to be able to deliver the revenue targets.
At that point, Taneja allegedly asked Villanueva for her hand.
“I looked at my boss who was sitting next to me and I’m like, what is going on here? And he signaled for me to go ahead and give my hand to the accused,” Villanueva said.
According to the complaint, Taneja stretched out his hand with his palm up, waiting for Villanueva to put her hand on his. That’s when he allegedly grabbed her hand, held it, and said, “You have a heavy hand, slap them yourself.” He was implying that Villanueva should slap the 20-plus partners who report to him under the GPS practice, according to the complaint.
The IC report includes statements from both Taneja and Koshy who admit this incident took place. Koshy said he was present in the room when Taneja asked for Villanueva’s hand during the meeting, but “[he] did not feel that this action by Gaurav appeared to have any ill-intention and seemed to be an expression of telling the complainant to take action independently,” documents show.
“They both mentioned in their statements to the IC that the accused asked for my hand to empower me and demonstrate that I had autonomy to take action on my own,” Villanueva said. “Had I been a man, would he ask for my hand to empower me? Of course not. He touched me. He asked for my hand to touch me. That’s it, end of story.”
Villanueva points to the POSH Act, which states that sexual harassment in the workplace “includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behavior (whether directly or by implication)”:
- Physical contact and advances;
- A demand or request for sexual favors;
- Making sexually colored remarks;
- Showing pornography; or
- Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
“EY’s IC mentions that holding my hand was not of a sexual nature. What was it then?” she said. “This is India. Had I been a Muslim woman with a hijab, this would be a different story. But the POSH Act is clear, and it says ‘physical contact and advances,’ which is what that was, in addition to the first incident where he said to me, ‘What would I get if I forgive you?’ It’s clear to me.”
“He is a bully”
There were other incidents, according to Villanueva’s complaint. Taneja allegedly told her in front of colleagues that the work she did to boost the World Bank Group account’s revenue was “lucky” and “that he was tired of looking at presentations she did not deliver,” despite Villanueva being given a performance rating of 4 (“exceeds expectations”) by the firm.
“The entire 20 partners who work under him are bullied and harassed,” Villanueva said. “But they’re men. They’ve been told, ‘OK, fine, here’s the door.’ He is a bully. Everyone knows how he is.”
She also claims she once saw Taneja “staring at her butt as she walked out of his office” and that he winked at her after a workshop had concluded.
In late 2017, with only six months remaining on her employment visa, Villanueva asked Koshy if he knew whether her employment contract, which was set to expire on June 27, 2018, would be extended. And her boss told her that each time he asked Taneja about it, he wouldn’t give him a straight answer.
In January 2018, rumors started swirling around the office that Villanueva was being forced to leave EY, that people were already vying for her job, and that she was an “expensive resource,” according to the complaint.
Villanueva said she had more than 20 email exchanges with EY human resources from December 2017 to May 2018 regarding the extension of both her visa and contract.
“I sent 11 emails—not two, not three, not four … 11—between December  to February  to HR requesting them to give me the complete list of the documentation I needed to renew my employment visa in India, which was expiring on May 1,” she said. “I knew the process would take a long time, and they never responded. When they finally responded at the end of March, it was already too late.
“As a foreign national, I cannot initiate an employment visa renewal process in the Foreigners Regional Registration Office in India without the support of my employer. It is indicated in the Undertaking Letter EY issued when they hired me in 2016 that they take full responsibility for my activities and conduct, and assure that I will observe all laws and regulations,” Villanueva continued. “I was told by an HR director in May, ‘[Taneja] didn’t know if he wanted you here.’ The thing is, it’s not about the separate incidents; it’s about the first one. Everything was in retaliation because I didn’t respond to the ‘What do I get if I forgive you?’ incident.”
During a meeting on March 9, 2018, Taneja said he wanted Villanueva to deliver $20 million in revenue for the World Bank Group account for the India region in FY 2019. She told him she couldn’t commit to that amount, so the two agreed on a revenue goal of $15 million.
“When he shook my hand, he told me, ‘You know your contract depends on this.’” Villanueva said.
That comment, she said, amounts to sexual harassment under Section 3(2)(iii) of the POSH Act if there is an “implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status.”
But due to delays by HR and due to Taneja’s delay in extending her contract, Villanueva was deemed a violator of India’s Foreigners Act of 1946 on May 2, 2018, according to the complaint.
On May 16, she emailed Sandeep Kohli, talent leader at EY India and a member of the firm’s IC, that she was feeling coerced to leave EY because she was in the country on an expired visa and she didn’t have a signed contract in place. And on May 30, Villanueva tendered her resignation from EY India, citing the sexual harassment she had endured from Taneja as the reason why she had to leave.
“I have strong reason to believe that my complaints and grievances have been deliberately suppressed in order to keep buried the allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, and intimidation that I have had to endure for over 1.5 years,” she said in her complaint, adding that she had “significant potential” to be promoted to partner.
“Trying to cover up a sexual harassment complaint is unacceptable”
Villanueva had a meeting with Kohli and Memani, EY India’s chairman, on June 22, 2018, where she implored Memani in tears to implement EY’s zero-tolerance policy for workplace harassment and to take action regarding her allegations against Taneja, according to the complaint.
During the meeting, Memani offered an apology to Villanueva on behalf of EY and asked why she had waited until then to make EY India aware of these alleged incidents, to which she told him she had raised a complaint of these incidents, starting with the very first one in February 2017, as soon as they happened by following the proper channels as mandated by the EY India Code of Conduct and the EY Global Code of Conduct.
Villanueva asked Memani when she should expect a response from him. He told her he would get back to her with his response in about two weeks as he would be traveling, and he also needed to discuss this matter internally and with Taneja.
On several instances after the meeting, Villanueva said she asked Memani and the IC’s members why he didn’t tell her during the June 22 meeting that they should immediately initiate the IC’s inquiry on her sexual harassment complaint.
“I told Mr. Memani during the meeting that the accused had the audacity to treat me this way because he thought he could get away with it, as he had been allowed over and over again to get away with such behavior in the firm,” she said. “Had he been stopped before, I wouldn’t have had to face this when I joined EY India.”
On July 4, 2018, Villanueva received a phone call from Kohli who told her EY’s IC wanted to meet with her on July 9. The meeting lasted nearly 4 1/2 hours, and the IC extended Villanueva’s notice period at EY until July 31, per her request under the POSH Act.
After speaking with Taneja, the IC’s members interviewed several other EY India executives—including Koshy, who told the committee that Villanueva did follow proper procedure and told him about each of the alleged incidents with Taneja—as well as other witnesses who they considered “relevant” but weren’t on Villanueva’s list of witnesses for them to talk to, according to the complaint.
Villanueva said the IC didn’t reach out to or interview any of the witnesses from EY Global who were on her list, including senior partners working on the global World Bank Group account team, who knew she was having issues with Taneja. She claims the committee “intentionally selected and interviewed witnesses … they knew would corroborate the findings that the IC intended to give” on her complaint, according to documents shared with Going Concern.
“They interviewed two other women who said, ‘No, he [Taneja] has never behaved like this with us.’ But a perpetrator doesn’t behave with someone else in the same way. You cannot justify how he was with other people; it’s how he was with me,” Villanueva said.
In its final report, the IC concluded that, “while [Taneja’s] style of working was abrasive and demanding, it was never sexually inappropriate or abusive.” But the committee noted that he should take steps to improve his workplace demeanor. The committee made the following recommendations:
- Issuance of a warning letter to the respondent [Taneja] for his behavior toward the complainant [Villanueva].
- Counseling to the respondent [Taneja] on appropriate workplace conduct and upholding the values of the organization.
- For instances of disrespectful and hostile behavior toward other colleagues as emerged during the IC’s inquiry, management to take action as deemed fit to address the concerns. The same is beyond the jurisdiction of the IC.
- That the complainant’s [Villanueva’s] reporting manager should be counseled on immediate escalation to HR for all instances of discomfort brought to his attention.
In her appeal against the IC’s recommendations in court, Villanueva alleges, among other things:
- The committee wasn’t in compliance with the POSH Act, which states that “the presiding officer and every member of the Internal Committee shall hold office for such period, not exceeding three years, from the date of their nomination as may be specified by the employer.” She said several members served on the committee for more than three years.
- The committee left out of its report the psychologist therapy sessions that she had to undergo due to the alleged sexual harassment and bullying by Taneja. “The mental trauma, pain, suffering, and emotional distress caused to the aggrieved woman” are covered under the POSH Act.
- The committee did not interview half of the witnesses she listed in her case, specifically colleagues from EY Global and one of EY’s clients.
Villanueva also claims that EY India violated its own zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment by not conducting mandatory sexual harassment training under the POSH Act to employees until after she left the firm and registered the FIR at the police station.
“I have always believed that the actions of a few individuals in the firm should not tarnish EY’s reputation, but proactively trying to cover up a sexual harassment complaint and retaliating against the victim is unacceptable at every level,” she said.
“I lost everything I have ever worked for”
When asked if she thinks Taneja deserves to go to prison for his alleged actions under the POSH Act, Villanueva said, “No,” but she added, “EY has to implement the zero-tolerance policy on bullying and harassment of any kind—in my case, sexual harassment at the workplace under the POSH Act—and EY India’s ‘Policy for Prevention and Prosecution of Acts of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace.’ That’s non-negotiable for me. And the accused has to step down, as well as everyone involved in the cover-up, mishandling, and retaliation of my case.”
Like Karen Ward, the ex-EY U.S. partner who filed a sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against her former employer last September, Villanueva is currently looking for potential work opportunities. She knows she’ll never be hired by another Big 4 firm because she’s labeled as a “troublemaker.”
“I lost everything I have ever worked for because of this, and I was forced to leave my home of six years in India,” said Villanueva, who is currently living in Panama.
“People think that sexual harassment doesn’t happen to people like me, but it does,” she added. “A lot of people may be supporting me but in silence because they may be afraid of losing their job. And no one will hire me, no Big 4 will ever hire me. Nothing. Companies say they support women who raise sexual harassment complaints, but it’s not true. They may support them, but they won’t hire them.”
If EY Treats a Partner Who Reports Sexual Misconduct Like This, What Hope Do Other Employees Have?
Another Former EY Partner Has Filed a Sexual Harassment Complaint Against the Firm
Ex-EY Partner to CEO Mark Weinberger: ‘Let’s Make EY a Better Place to Work for Women’
EY Switzerland Suspends Chief Talent Officer Accused of Sexual Harassment
EY Switzerland Managing Partner Accused of Sexual Harassment Has Been Relieved of His Duties
EY Won’t Waive Arbitration Provision for Ex-Partner Who Says She Was Victim of Sexual Harassment