Stephen Tully of PricewaterhouseCoopers, who sent the email to colleagues

A GROUP of male employees suspended from top accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Dublin, over a sexist email rating the looks of new female recruits, are due to return to work tomorrow when they will learn if they are to be sacked.

The Sunday Tribune understands that up to five men have been suspended over the controversy but have been asked to return to work tomorrow for meetings with management.

The 13 young women at the centre of the global scandal officially began working at PwC on Friday, following three weeks' training.

PwC insiders have indicated that the women do not intend to take legal action against their employers on the basis of sexual harassment and are instead more focused on getting on with their new jobs.

"They are most upset by the news-papers printing their pictures. They started work today [Friday] but have been in the office for the past three weeks training. The email was unacceptable and childish but no one in here thinks it should be a sackable offence," said a source within PwC.

"It happens in here every year. But it also happens at all the other big accountancy firms and solicitors firms both in Ireland and abroad. It is horrible for the women but everyone thinks it has been blown out of proportion."

The sexist email, which "rates" 13 new women employed by PwC, was circulated within the firm at first but then sent to men in other financial services businesses in Dublin.

On Thursday, a senior partner with the firm, Ronan Murphy, sent an email to its Irish clients and alumni emphasising that the firm was taking the issue "extremely seriously".

The email went viral and the photos of the women have now been published all over the world. On the afternoon of 26 October, Stephen Tully of PwC sent an email to 14 male colleagues within the firm.

"This would be my shortlist for the top ten," the email stated. An hour later, colleague Paul G Cummins replied: "Great work, have reservations about the last one getting in."

The email included photographs of 13 female graduates who had recently joined the firm. The next morning, David McDonough at PwC forwarded the email to three male colleagues in the firm as well as to men in CBRE estate agents, Mercer consulting group and HSOC accountants.

This email included a crude term – "clunge" – to describe the women. After this, the email went viral and spread around Dublin and later the world.

Michelle Ní Longáin, a partner at law firm Byrne Wallace in Dublin and an expert in employment law, said the content of the email falls within the definition of sexual harassment under the Employment Acts. "The employer in question potentially faces cases of sexual harassment claims under the Employment Equality Acts," she said.

However, she added that because PwC acted promptly to address the issue when it emerged, and because of the fact that it most likely has existing policies prohibiting harassment of employees, it would have a good defence should any of the women take cases to the Equality Tribunal.

Solicitor Richard Grogan, of Richard Grogan and Associates, said the men involved in sending and commenting on the email were clearly in breach of the company's intranet system as well as several other internal policies.

Some of the comments by the men in the email would also be in breach of the company's harassment policy, which all large firms have.

"Sending an email that is as inappropriate as this is a very serious matter. It will clearly be in breach of some of the company's policies. Such actions can lead to disciplinary procedure, up to and including dismissal," he said. "The use of a derogatory word to describe the women is something that will be seen as a very serious issue also."

Figures of fun

If an accountant's wife can't get to sleep, what does she say?

"Tell me about work today, dear."

What's an accountant's idea of trashing his hotel room?

Refusing to fill out the guest comment card.

What does an accountant use for birth control?

His personality.

When does a person decide to become an accountant?

When he realises he doesn't have the charisma to succeed as an undertaker.

What's the most wicked thing a group of young accountants can do?

Go into town and gang-audit someone.

What's an extroverted accountant?

One who looks at your shoes while he's talking to you instead of his own.