More than 1,100 women accuse KPMG of discrimination, assault

"We allege that KPMG discriminates against women in pay and in promotions, and that this happens within a boys' club culture that fails to address these disparities -- even though KPMG has known about them -- and that fails to address complaints of gender discrimination and sexual harassment," said the lead attorney in a gender discrimination case against accounting giant KPMG, which has U.S. and international offices.

The plaintiffs allege violations of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits job discrimination based on gender. The lawsuit has been conditionally certified as an Equal Pay Act class action. It could also be certified as a Title VII class action, which could affect far more women than the 1,112 who have joined the case so far.

Examples of alleged sexual harassment

In addition to complaints of disparities in pay and promotions, the plaintiffs' latest motion details allegations of rampant, widespread sexual harassment and even assault that KPMG failed to address.

For example, some male KPMG employees allegedly told female colleagues to wear lipstick and high heels in order to bring in more business. Others are accused of assaulting women by grabbing their breasts, buttocks or thighs.

One manager was found to have shared, on multiple occasions, suggestive or explicit emails, photos and videos. KPMG noted that he had been previously reprimanded for "similar issues," but gave him only a written warning and an order to take a one-hour online training course.

In KPMG's complaint process, most sexual harassment complaints were categorized simply as "lack of professionalism" and resulted in little or no punishment, the plaintiffs say.

KPMG responds to allegations

KPMG contends these claims are meritless. The firm says it is a recognized leader in the advancement of women and says the plaintiffs' claims are unrepresentative of the experiences of most women at the firm. It also boasts of a robust internal investigation and sanctions process. In recent years, it has appointed a female CEO and added two female directors to its board.

Nevertheless, complaints from KPMG women continue to come in. "Since the filing of the lawsuit, KPMG has not made meaningful changes in addressing the gender disparities in compensation or the gender disparities in promotion," said the plaintiffs' lead attorney.

If these allegations are true, it wouldn't be the first time that a prestigious professional services organization has been operated like a "boys' club." Women deserve better -- and the law requires it. Still, it takes courage to stand up for your rights.

As one of the plaintiffs' lawyers said, "change will only be possible through the collective resistance of the brave women who have come forward."

How to get help

If you have experienced discrimination or harassment, call an attorney who focuses on this area of the law.