Sunday, July 30, 2006

Now in Australia, a "professional" woman aims to get rich by whining

Big law and accounting firms must be having lots of doubts about hiring women now that there have been so many cases of this kind in Britain and the USA

When Christina Rich confronted her PricewaterhouseCoopers boss Stuart Edwards about his alleged workplace sexism and discrimination, he offered this solution: "I just want to give you a big hug to make it better. We just need to go out for dinner with a bottle of wine to nut out the issues and a way forward."

The accounting multinational's defence of a $10 million sex discrimination case makes these admissions and also reveals Mr Edwards thought it was acceptable to adopt the habit of kissing the highest-paid female partner in the firm. Mr Edwards believed that since Ms Rich had shared with him matters of a personal nature, they had enjoyed a "friendly, open and good-humoured relationship". Therefore, greeting her with a kiss was not out of context, documents filed in the Federal Court this week show.

After Ms Rich objected to the kissing and was also allegedly subjected to sexism, harassment and discrimination from a number of senior partners at the firm, she requested a mediator to resolve the matters. Mr Edwards's solution to go out to dinner was his way of working through the issues in "an informal and non-confrontational manner", the response says.

In the nation's biggest workplace sexism claim, Ms Rich says she suffered discrimination, bullying and victimisation and her progress through the organisation was hampered. In its response, PwC confirms a substantial number of the incidents but does not accept that Ms Rich was adversely affected.

Melbourne-based Mr Edwards was the head of the transfer pricing division and Ms Rich, who worked from Sydney, was paid about $1 million a year for her advice in the area, saving clients of the calibre of American Express tens of millions of dollars by moving global profit from one tax jurisdiction to another.

The accounting giant denies that Mr Edwards told Ms Rich that she received a positive performance review because chief executive Tony Harrington "fancies her". It admits that partner and board member Tim Cox asked Ms Rich, when watching a corporate video showing a woman sunbaking topless: "Christina, is that you sunbathing on the beach?" PwC says that comment, too, was made in the context of a "friendly and good-humoured relationship".

In justifying Mr Edwards's comments to her that she was emotional, scatty and high-maintenance, the response says these were "matters of opinion which were reasonably held". The firm also claims Mr Edwards's comment to Ms Rich that the pregnancy of another employee was affecting her work did not cause offence to the other woman.

PwC says Ms Rich was unco-operative in mediation from March 2004 and - after making a complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission - she was placed on restricted duties in August, her pay cut and her access to clients prevented. "The applicant expressed on a number of occasions her lack of faith and confidence in the firm or its ability to address her concerns," the response says. "She was operating under intense stress and required real relief from the pressures which she faced" and had "indicated that she was unwilling or unable to operate as a partner of the firm. "In those circumstances the imposition and confirmation of access restrictions in good faith by management and the board respectively was reasonable and in the best interests of the firm"

Senior partners and board members at all times "acted in good faith" and "took all reasonable steps" to reach agreement.

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on 29 July, 2006


Earlier this year, there was much fanfare surrounding the U.S. Senate's attempts to promote the English language as part of its immigration bill pushed through the Senate by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.) and others. Substantial media attention -- on television, in newspaper stories, and on many editorial pages -- was devoted to what seemed like a major legislative step toward underscoring the importance of our nation's immigrants learning and speaking English. But, in the end, it was all for naught. Rather than a step forward for those who see the English language as essential for assimilation into American society, the Reid-Kennedy bill instead took a step back.

Two English language amendments were adopted during the Senate debate -- and uncertainty ruled the day, both then and now. The first amendment adopted would have made English the national language and required those applying for citizenship to be proficient in English and learn American history. However, shortly after, another much weaker amendment followed. It deemed English a "common and unifying language" and -- incredibly -- reaffirmed President Clinton's Executive Order 13166, which guaranteed immigrants' rights to demand that the federal government communicate with them in any language they choose . and at the taxpayers' expense. For an amendment which allegedly was offered to promote English, the fact that it also reaffirmed this controversial executive order is troubling, to say the least.

Even now, months after the Senate votes, questions remain about which amendment takes precedence over the other and, more importantly, whether this was a missed opportunity to stress the importance of the English language in the ongoing immigration debate. What this matter needs is a serious and broad examination -- and sooner rather than later.

Today, a key subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee will begin that serious examination. The panel will gather input from a diverse panel of witnesses, who will discuss varying perspectives on the need to make English the official language. In the wake of the Senate's actions on English -- not to mention its adoption of the troubling language to reaffirm the Clinton executive order -- this hearing will be the first step toward sorting out this web of confusion.

Several weeks ago, in announcing the new series of hearings on border security and immigration enforcement, House Republican leaders made clear that the final bill we send to President Bush will reflect five core principles. One of them states that Republicans believe the success of our country depends upon newcomers assimilating into American society by learning English. This principle is not new to the Education & the Workforce Committee. That's because it's also a core principle of the most sweeping law within our panel's jurisdiction -- the No Child Left Behind Act -- as well.

Regardless of your views on No Child Left Behind, the fact remains that a key aspect of it is its focus on Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students. It shines a spotlight to ensure LEP students are excelling in school and making adequate progress in math and reading, and taxpayers commit hundreds of millions of dollars to this effort each year. In stark contrast to the spirit of the Clinton executive order, No Child Left Behind insists that LEP students communicate in and learn English. It's that simple.

No Child Left Behind is straightforward about the importance of the English language, and any border security bill we send to President Bush should be as well. That is why the Education and the Workforce Committee is the perfect venue for a serious discussion about how best to ensure that those coming to America legally learn English and assimilate into our society. In short, we'll fulfill our responsibility where the Reid-Kennedy supporters didn't


The pathetic English attitude to personal responsibility

Everything must be somebody elses's responsibility

A few days ago a young man just a yard away from me on the pavement suddenly lashed out and kicked a shop window, breaking it and cutting his toe on the glass. It would have been bizarre not to comment. "That was really stupid," I said. "Why on earth did you do it?" "They won't let me in," he answered, adding pathetically, "I've hurt my foot." I took it upon myself to lecture him for a minute or two about the consequences of certain actions. I'd like to think he won't be kicking in any more windows. But he's probably just learnt not to do it in flip-flops.

I find myself dangerously messianic on the issue of personal responsibility at the moment. As readers of my column in the Saturday Magazine will know, because I've been boring on about it for weeks, I recently had a motorbike accident. I was riding around a dirt track, got cocky, went over a jump far too fast and fell off, breaking my collarbone and a few ribs. The reason I am inflicting this misfortune on a whole new audience is because I have been amazed by the number of people who, commiserations dealt with, ask how much I'll be getting by way of compensation.

Compensation from whom? I say. (No other rider or vehicle was involved.) From the owners of the track, they reply. But why should they give me money for something that was my own stupid fault? I say. So then these people suggest that The Times (I was riding the motorbike in order to write about the experience; that part worked out rather well) should stump up some cash. That'd be nice, I reply, but again, there wasn't a News Corp bigshot on the pillion, ordering me to rip the throttle open at precisely the wrong moment. The mistake, I repeat, was mine alone. At this my interlocutor gives me a sympathetic, head-cocked-to-one-side funny look, as if I'm being weirdly masochistic.

Well, what about Kawasaki then, they suggest, surely they owe you something? Oh come on, I say, voice rising, that'd be like suing Toyota or GMC every time you dented your bumper. Well, quite, they say, looking smug. But, I shout, it was my own fault! Just as when I got knocked off my bicycle, that was my fault too, I'd illegally undertaken a lorry and gone into the driver's blind spot. And when I almost fell out of a tree in the spring, that would have been my fault too, had I not grabbed another branch in time, because I'd climbed too high in inadequate footwear on a windy day. It wasn't the tree's fault, or the owner of the tree's fault, or the wind's fault, or the maker of my trainers' fault. It was mine.

What's more, I say heatedly, not only would it be simply mistaken for me to go around blaming someone else for these incidents, and greedy to try to profit from them, it would also be a negation of me as an individual. Say I hadn't crashed on that motocross jump. Say I'd come back safely to earth like Evel Knievel on one of his better days, wouldn't that have meant I'd negotiated a tricky situation? And thus felt able to congratulate myself? Not by the logic of these hair-trigger litigants, no. If you can never take individual responsibility for doing something badly, neither can you take it for doing something well.

And then I get really steamed up, and say I'm not 7 years old, I'm almost 42, and the definition of being an adult is taking responsibility for your own actions, and not always to blame other people, or corporations, governments, "They", The System and History with a capital H. Oh Robert, these people then say, letting the ball roll away and charging instead into the man, you really have got very right-wing in your old age haven't you? And I reply, no I haven't, I'm actually moving closer to a classically anarchist position.

That shuts them up, giving me the chance to add, slightly pompously perhaps, that it is sad that at the very moment free will is becoming a reality for many of us, or at least for those of us living in Western democracies, the prevailing left-wing orthodoxy has become to condemn those who accept the consequences of that freedom.

It's peculiar, the right-wing accusation. I can tell people imagine it to be their final, unanswerable, bone-shattering argument. I've been hearing it a lot recently. First I came out in favour of selection by ability in education. Then I did a piece arguing patriotism was a healthy human emotion. And now I've fallen off a motorbike and assumed responsibility for something that was, in fact, my responsibility. And this, it turns out, is sufficient to condemn you as a 21st-century Genghis Khan.


No comments: