London - An accountant accused of sexually assaulting a colleague at a fancy-dress party claims he is a victim of age and race discrimination.
The man was dressed as a lumberjack when he allegedly put his hand up the skirt of a woman in an Elvis Presley costume and touched her bottom.
He was forced to quit as a partner of top accounting firm PwC, but denies the accusation and says he was unfairly dismissed on grounds of age and race.
He is suing the firm for £5million, claiming bosses tried to portray him as a ‘dirty old Indian man’ to force him out.
The incident allegedly took place on a three-day trip to upmarket ski resort Cortina D’Ampezzo, in Italy’s Dolomite mountains, attended by 50 staff members in January 2016. Other women at the ‘wild’ party were dressed as prostitutes and ‘deliberately over-flirting’, a tribunal heard.
Large quantities of wine were drunk at dinner and some people downed Genepi – a strong liqueur similar to absinthe – straight from the bottle, the man said.
The assault allegedly happened later in the evening, when the workers visited two nightclubs.
The man, who is in his 60s but cannot be named due to an order that is routine in employment tribunal cases of alleged sexual assault, claims PwC’s investigation ‘was tainted by bias’.
‘I felt I was trapped in a Kafka-esque nightmare in which I was forced to defend myself against ill-founded allegations and whatever I said, and whatever evidence PwC had before it that supported my innocence, was ignored,’ he told the London South Employment Tribunal. ‘It appeared to me that a presumption had been readily made that I was some dirty old Indian man who had behaved in a predatory way.’
The woman confronted the man a week after their return to the UK, the tribunal was told. Recalling the party, the man said: ‘It was already quite wild before all the wine … somehow being in fancy dresses gave everyone a form of a mask to behave in a wild way.’
He said he had no memory of the second part of the night, including the second club where the assault allegedly occurred, after suffering a drink-induced ‘blackout’. PwC’s barrister, Caspar Glyn QC, asked: ‘During that period of blackout you’re still saying you were in your senses and although you can’t remember anything, you still didn’t do what you’re accused of doing.’
The man replied: ‘I didn’t do anything she is claiming I did.’
He said he found the trip a ‘culture shock’, with colleagues viewing it as ‘an opportunity to escape … and get drunk’.
Disciplinary procedures began against the man in March 2016 and he was sent a letter from PwC’s legal team on April 25 that year.
During PwC’s investigation, the man initially denied going to the second club, but remembered it after treatment with a counsellor.
In June 2016 he learned he was being fired and took forced retirement the next month. But he claimed: ‘In fact, PwC had already decided to retire me well before the disciplinary process had concluded. I believe this was because of my age and because my face did not fit … Having a senior, confident Indian beyond retirement age did not fit with the profiles at the level of seniority within the firm as it was creating tensions.’
PwC, formerly PriceWaterhouseCoopers, has a ‘strict retirement age’ of 60 for partners, but the tribunal heard the man had been able to stay as part of a deal when his old firm was bought out.
He was due to receive four instalments of nearly £700,000 between 2015 and 2018 relating to shares and entitlement. But he claims efforts were made to stop him pursuing certain lines of work.
‘It suited [PwC] to remove me under the pretext of potentially bringing the firm into disrepute because my age and profile was causing them embarrassment, and now they could get rid of me cheaply,’ he added.
The tribunal continues.