Muslim employee sues Accenture for lower pay, bonus and demotion

01 November 2017 6 min. read
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The US arm body of Accenture is being sued for racial discrimination for the second time in as many years, following allegations from Mohammed Ali. Allegations of bigotry hindering an individual’s career are by no means exclusive to the US, however, with cases of gender and ethnic bias reported among the UK consulting industry, too. 

With the rise of Islamophobia having tainted the US election, and the Muslim travel ban of President Donald Trump normalising such sentiments from an institutional standpoint, combating such prejudice in the workplace is a key concern among businesses in the coming years. The issue is not just confined to the US, however, with increasing anti-migrant tensions making the office a potentially hostile place for EU migrants in the UK as Brexit approaches. 

Accenture has been making efforts to address such issues. In June this year, the company launched a campaign ‘Inclusion Starts With I’. However, away from high-profile campaigns, the US consulting firm has found itself embroiled in a second race-related court battle, following allegations that a manager sympathetic to President Donald Trump ensured that a Muslim Indian employee was deprived of the same pay and benefits as his white American colleagues. The firm was also sued last year by an Indian employee who claimed that he and hundreds of fellow participants in the company’s Global Careers Program were discriminated against. The complaint filed by Elton Kent alleged he was paid less than American employees and received fewer benefits, including paid paternity leave.

Now, Accenture faces allegations similar to those lodged by Kent from Mohammed Ali, who has alleged that as a result of his race and religion, he was paid a lower salary, did not receive an annual bonus, and was even demoted. According to Ali, he regularly exceeded annual sales targets, with the exception of fiscal year 2015. He claims he was paid less than his counterparts and was given a colossal $50 million sales target – while his colleagues had targets of $30 million – ending the fiscal year with $40.9 million in sales. The claimant further alleges that the company “shortened” him on other deals, to lower his annual sales production, and ensure his demotion. 

The accusations, which allegedly took place in the midst of the American Primaries, the preliminary phases of the US Presidential election, saw Ali’s manager justify the elevated target with the assertion that he, “wasn’t going to be like Bernie Sanders and give handouts.” According to the complaint, the manager in question also told Ali, who he knew was a practicing Muslim, that he agreed with “with all of Trump’s views,” at a time when then-candidate Donald Trump was calling for a Muslim immigration ban. Now the incumbent US President, Donald Trump has continued to cause racial tension across the nation, particularly following his failure to condemn the violence of white supremacists in Charlottesville, which left a woman dead and many more injured. Consulting industry members have been among those to denounce right wing politics in recent months, and in the wake of that particular incident, Arizona-based consultancy Spectrum Experience stated it will refuse work from clients unwilling to embrace the principles of racial equality.

Meanwhile, Accenture once again find themselves under pressure to address institutional failings of their own. While an issue of individual bigotry within an organisation should give any modern business cause for concern, and the claim of Ali that his figures were fixed to assure his failure at the firm would certainly imply an institutional failing, should it be proven true, implicating a number of other employees, as well as highlighting the firm’s broader failure to safeguard employees’ civil rights.

Muslim employee sues Accenture for lower pay, bonus and demotion

“Corporations are in the position to safeguard their South Asian and Muslim employees’ civil rights,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, a non-profit advocacy group. There needs to be more emphasis on implicit bias training and zero tolerance policies against discrimination at companies, she said.

In a statement, Accenture said it remains committed “to inclusion and diversity” and “that no one should be discriminated against because of their differences.” However, regarding Ali’s case, company spokeswoman Stacey Jones said his claims were, “ without merit.” Accenture dealt with the previously mentioned case without admitting or denying wrongdoing, meanwhile, having settled with Elton Kent for $500,000.

Ali’s attorney, Mark Oberti, declined to comment to the press regarding the case, according to the lawsuit filed in the Houston federal court, “The discrimination has caused Mr. Ali significant economic harm – in the neighbourhood of seven figures.”

Global issue

The UK consulting industry has similarly borne witness to allegations of ethnic and gender discrimination in recent years. EY reported earlier in the year that their mean ethnicity pay-gap stood at 17.3%, with a median of 9.8%. PwC earlier this year unveiled that its black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) pay gap stood at 12.8%.

PwC previously encountered allegations of institutional and individualised racism, including high-profile claims being brought before UK employment tribunals in 2009 and 2011, respectively. First, in 2009, Romanian expatriate Mihaela Popa, and then in 2011, Sri Lanka-born Dunstan Pedropillai, both alleged racial discrimination had limited their career paths with the firm. Popa was eventually awarded a small settlement for having been given an adverse reference following her resignation at PwC, though the case was also deemed by the tribunal to be an isolated incident. 

Last year, PwC also found themselves at the heart of a media outcry, after a temporary employee was sent home from work for wearing flats instead of heels. Nicola Thorp, who was working as a receptionist at PwC's outsourced reception firm Portico, was sent home without pay for refusing to wear 2 inch to 4 inch high heels. She was allegedly laughed at by the company when she claimed that the demand was discriminatory; telling her to either buy the required footwear or go home.