A senior Deloitte partner is leaving the firm after an investigation into inflammatory comments he made during a drunken tirade at a work event at the Royal Ascot horse races in June.
Deloitte this week informed staff that Stephen Cahill, who leads the Big Four accounting firm’s executive compensation practice in the UK, would retire following 14 years at the practice. He is also one of 25 vice-chairs of the firm.
The internal investigation focused on the events of Tuesday June 14, when a group of about 30 Deloitte employees from its executive compensation team gathered at Ascot for a social event.
Cahill attended the racecourse with a separate group of friends but joined the executive compensation team, as well as other Deloitte staff, towards the end of the day. By this point he was heavily inebriated and launched into a 30-minute drunken tirade that was sexist, racist and bullying, according to two eyewitnesses who requested anonymity.
His comments included an offensive remark about an ethnic minority employee, according to the eyewitnesses.
One of them said that Cahill “offended every collective group [of minorities]” with the rant. They added that their colleagues had thoroughly enjoyed the day at Ascot but that the outburst left many feeling “completely deflated”. Cahill called colleagues the following day to apologise and reported the incident to Deloitte.
Some Deloitte staff are angry with the outcome of the internal investigation that began just days after the Ascot incident.
Deloitte, which employs 23,000 people in the UK and pays its partners just over £1mn on average, informed staff last week that Cahill would retire from the firm in December.
“Badging it as a retirement is not appropriate,” said one of the eyewitnesses. “Big companies have so much education and training on what is appropriate and taking a zero-tolerance approach . . . This does not feel like ‘zero tolerance’.”
The other eyewitness said they felt compelled to speak out about Deloitte’s handling of the matter given Cahill’s role in advising large listed companies on their diversity and inclusion targets. “This does not feel moral,” the person said.
The former head of Deloitte UK, David Sproul, told the Financial Times in 2018: “We will fire people for any inappropriate behaviour. No one is protected.”
Cahill joined Deloitte as a partner in 2008 from Mercer, the consultancy, where he was head of executive compensation. He declined to comment. A person close to Cahill said he had a previously unblemished work record.
Deloitte said: “Stephen Cahill is retiring from Deloitte. We don’t have any comment on Stephen’s retirement.”
Cahill was described by two people who have worked closely with him — a competitor and a Deloitte insider — as outspoken, jovial and highly regarded within his sector. But they both said he sometimes lacked a “filter”.
The Deloitte incident comes after a series of scandals involving unprofessional conduct — often fuelled by alcohol — by senior figures at the Big Four accounting firms.
A partner at EY resigned last year after being fined by a professional body for sexually harassing a female trainee on a work ski trip. Meanwhile, last month, an auditor sued PwC, claiming he suffered a serious head injury after attending a work event that involved an “excessive” drinking game of “pub golf”.
Deloitte’s own figures show that 235 “ethics cases” were raised by its staff in the latest financial year relating to a range of misconduct issues. Just under a third of these related to respect and fair treatment, while 11 per cent related to harassment and 13 per cent related to other issues including alcohol and substance abuse.
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