LONDON, NOV. 11, 2010 -- PricewaterhouseCoopers is investigating reports that new female recruits in Dublin were welcomed to the company by their male counterparts with a crude e-mail chain that listed their photos and rated their attractiveness.
The global accounting firm, which is one of the largest in Great Britain, found out about the rating system Tuesday evening after the Irish Independent newspaper obtained a copy of the e-mail. PWC launched an investigation and won't comment on what the consequences for the men will be.
"We're taking this extremely seriously at the highest level of the firm," said PWC spokeswoman Johanna Dehaene. "We obviously regret this has happened."
One e-mail chain seen by ABC News was started by senior associate Stephen Tully and then forwarded on by two other senior associates. Tully's subject line read: "This would be my shortlist for the top 10." Other colleagues wrote: "Great work ... have reservations about the last one getting in" and "FYI. New clunge." "Clunge" is a British slang word for vagina.
None of the senior associates responded to interview requests. In all, 17 names were on the e-mail circulation list.
The women included in the e-mail were all new hires and recent college graduates. All involved in the incident were junior staff members, according to Dehaene.
The story gained notoriety in Ireland and Great Britain after several newspapers published photographs of the women. The source of the photos, circulated with the e-mail chain, isn't clear.
The Irish Independent was one of the papers to publish the photographs, but editors there declined to comment on the decision.
George Brock, the head of the journalism department at City University of London, said that while publishing the photographs may have been a bit sleazy on the newspapers' part, it's all too common.
"Attitudes to privacy are changing," he said. "But if I was a trainee at PWC, I'd be very careful about circulating photos from now on."
PricewaterhouseCoopers Says Its Supporting the Women
PWC said it's offering full support to the female employees involved, but the photographs published in several newspapers have complicated the situation.
"The impact has been compounded by the printing of the photographs," Dehaene said, adding that the company has met with the women several times. "The focus here at PricewaterhouseCoopers is on supporting the women."
None of the women involved could be reached for comment.
PWC is no stranger to sexual harassment cases. In 2008, former partner Christina Rich won more than $5 million in one of the world's largest sexual harassment case payouts. She said she'd endured bullying and harassment for more than a decade in the company's "boys' club" culture in Australia.