EY partner fined £7k for ski trip harassmentby
A senior partner at EY has been fined and issued with a severe reprimand for behaving in a sexually “aggressive” manner to a junior trainee on a work trip.
A partner at Big Four accounting firm EY is under fire with the ICAEW for acting inappropriately towards a trainee employee whilst on a work ski trip in January 2019.
Neil Hutt ACA was found to be behaving in an “obscene” and “aggressive” manner towards the junior female colleague, remarking to her “I’m going to f*ck you” in the middle of a team lunch.
As a result of Hutt’s behaviour, he was fined £75,000 by the firm, which was deducted from his salary, but kept his job intact as long as he agreed to attend a diversity and inclusion training programme.
However, this did not preclude the ICAEW disciplinary committee from taking action which this month served Hutt with a severe reprimand and ordered him to pay costs of £4,895 with a financial penalty of £7,000.
The Times have since reported that Hutt has resigned from his position at the Big Four firm.
The ski trip
Hutt became a partner at EY during 2005, while the trainee employee involved had only been with the firm for four months. The two had had little contact prior to the ski holiday.
The ICAEW case notes did not name EY as the firm, but reports from the nationals such as The Times later revealed the Big Four firm as Hutt's place of employment.
Although it was not an official company event, the ski trip had become an annual tradition amongst employees within the firm.
During lunch one day, and amongst four other employees, the trainee member was having a conversation with another team member when Hutt interrupted and asked: “What are you doing this afternoon? Because I’m going to f*ck you.”
He went on to include another team member in this comment, who was not present at the time.
The tribunal heard that the trainee felt “shocked and disappointed” by Hutt’s actions, but did her best to hide her emotions.
The second sexually aggressive remark came after lunch when the group were sat outside having some drinks.
The trainee accountant was describing an incident that had occurred whilst skiing earlier in the day when she had been “bashed” into from behind by a rogue snowboarder.
Hutt once again interrupted, laughing and saying: “That’s funny because I’ll be bashing you from behind this afternoon.”
Once again, the trainee stated that his words made her feel extremely uncomfortable. The panel heard “increasing rumours around the office had left her feeling isolated and publicity about the incident had significantly increased her embarrassment and shame to the extent she had found it difficult coming into work”.
EY then conducted an internal investigation into the incident in February 2019, during which Hutt admitted to making another inappropriate remark. In the midst of a conversation about the trainee getting a boyfriend, Hutt had asked her outright: “Have you thought about an older man?”.
Hutt admitted to using these words, although in another comment he was sure he had used the term “let’s shag” rather than “let’s f*ck”.
The report states that he explained he had meant it “as a joke”.
During March 2019, EY issued Hutt with a written warning and imposed a financial penalty of £75,000 in the form of a deduction from salary. He was also required to attend diversity and inclusiveness training, and to agree to be an advocate for the firm’s cultural improvement, including talking to peers about his conduct and what he had learned.
The ICAEW found Hutt guilty of misconduct following a hearing that took place this July.
The tribunal stated that Hutt’s representative accepted the conduct in question engaged ICAEW’s disciplinary jurisdiction because of the difference in seniority between the two involved.
The committee found that Hutt’s misconduct was “obscene” and “aggressive”, and had imposed a long-lasting effect on the trainee.
“Egregious behaviour of this nature has no place in the profession and the Tribunal seriously considered whether [Hutt’s] conduct was incompatible with him remaining a member of the profession,” the disciplinary report stated.
However, the tribunal was ultimately satisfied that the public interest could be adequately protected by severely reprimanding Hutt and imposing a financial penalty. They settled on a fine of £7,000 with further costs of £4,895.
AccountingWEB members’ reaction
AccountingWEB readers have expressed shock that Hutt was not dismissed from EY due to his behaviour:
“I am struggling, based on what has been reported, to understand how he kept his position with EY… If I was a cynic I might believe his continuing connection with EY might have something faintly to do with his fee base,” commented DJKL.
“A panel said behaviour 'aggravated by extreme difference in age and seniority'....so that's alright then, we're back to the old 70's Carry On movies where the middle aged boss is goosing his secretary and having it off with the girl in accounting....age and seniority should mean taking more responsibility, not using it as mitigation,” added Jason Croke.
“Makes you wonder how many other times he has said similar things to juniors perhaps not so willing to challenge his authority... The higher up the ladder you are the less likely you are to be meaningfully dealt with,” said justsotax.
Matthew Corrie, a barrister and associate at Blake Morgan LLP, comments:
This case was brought by the ICAEW under byelaw 4a which provides that disciplinary action can be taken in relation to acts or omissions carried out in the course of professional work, or, as was the case here, outside of work activity, if the conduct is likely to discredit the member or the ICAEW.
The ICAEW put its case on the basis that although the comments were not made in the course of his professional duties Mr Hutt was expected to behave respectfully towards colleagues on the trip and that Person A was entitled to be treated in exactly the same way as she would have been in the office. It was submitted that the conduct was such that it was likely to bring discredit on himself and the ICAEW.
This is interesting within the context of the decisions of SRA v Beckwith  EWHC 3231 (Admin) and Frensham v Financial Conduct Authority  UKUT 0222 (TCC) in which there appears to have been a shift away from regulators of financial and legal professionals reaching into the private lives of its members.
It might have been arguable that Mr Hutt's actions were unrelated to his professional life such that regulatory action was not required. However, this was, although not official, a firm trip, the comments were highly inappropriate and unwelcome, were made in front of colleagues and caused long lasting effect on Ms A. These factors arguably provide sufficient nexus so as to justify regulatory action.
The tribunal considered the conduct as obscene and aggressive and described it as egregious and as having no place in the profession. Had Mr Hutt not made full admissions, shown remorse and satisfied the tribunal that there was no risk of a repetition of such conduct, he may well have been excluded from membership of the ICAEW. Although he was not excluded it is noted that the case has attracted wide publicity and that Mr Hutt has resigned from his position with the firm.
That disciplinary action was taken in relation to this conduct demonstrates that such behaviour by its members will not and cannot be tolerated by the ICAEW.
Matthew Corrie is a senior associate at Blake Morgan and part of the Accountants Defence team alongside colleagues Chris Cope and Samantha Hatt. The team are available to assist with any disciplinary, regulatory and compliance matters arising in the accountancy profession - click here if you require any of their services.