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PwC’s boozy U.K. event ends with coma and lawsuit

Michael Brockie went into a coma and had part of his skull removed after participating in the company event that encouraged ‘excessive’ drinking, according to the lawsuit

PricewaterhouseCoopers offices in London. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)
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An auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers in England is suing the company over severe injuries he sustained at a work event that “made a competitive virtue” of “excessive” drinking, the lawsuit alleges.

In April 2019, Michael Brockie participated in a PwC “pub golf” event, in which attendees were supposed to visit nine bars, each representing a hole, according to the Financial Times, which first reported on the case. Employees were supposed to finish their drinks in as few sips as possible to get the lowest score.

Brockie says he became drunk enough to black out and lose his memory of the night after 10 p.m.; he was later found lying in the street with a severe head injury. Brockie was in a coma for several weeks and had part of his skull removed as a result of his injuries. He returned to work after six months, but he still suffers “persistent cognitive symptoms” and is at risk of developing epilepsy, according to the Financial Times.

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“Doctors and the police came to the conclusion that I fell over and didn’t use my hands to break the fall so I ended up hitting my head on the floor,” Brockie told ITV after the incident. “The next thing I remember was four weeks later.”

A spokesperson for PwC said that the company could not comment “on a matter that is subject to ongoing legal proceedings.”

“As a responsible employer we are committed to providing a safe, healthy and inclusive culture for all of our people,” PwC said in a statement to The Washington Post. “We also expect anyone attending social events to be responsible and to ensure their own safety and that of others.”

The case, filed in London’s High Court, is among the latest to highlight the entrenchment of drinking in the United Kingdom’s white-collar professional culture. In March, insurance market Lloyd’s of London fined member firm Atrium Underwriters a record 1 million pounds for “serious failures,” including a “boys’ night out” where employees, including two senior executives, “took part in inappropriate initiation games and heavy drinking, and made sexual comments about female colleagues,” the Guardian reported.

In 2021, a partner at Ernst & Young resigned after he was fined thousands of pounds for sexually harassing a female colleague during a firm ski trip on which employees had been drinking. And in the wake of #MeToo, some firms introduced “booze chaperones” or “sober supervisors” at company events in hopes of cutting down on misconduct and creating cultures where alcohol is not a focal point.

Peter Bamberger, vice president at the Academy of Management and a professor at Tel Aviv University and Cornell University’s Smithers Institute, has studied the use of alcohol in and around the workplace for decades.

People perceive alcohol as being a social lubricant, Bamberger said, which motivates them to drink in hopes of interacting more comfortably with co-workers — regardless of whether alcohol actually makes things better. And in some industries, drinking is baked into the culture of dealmaking.

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“In a lot of professional workplace interactions, drinking is a way of establishing a trusting relationship,” Bamberger said. With salespeople, for example, “very often the sales process begins with episodes of drinking where everybody puts themselves at risk.”

Employees were under “heavy pressure” to attend the PwC pub golf event, a celebration for the end of “busy season” that was organized by Brockie’s manager at the company’s Reading office, according to reporting from the Guardian.

“I expect absolute attendance from all of those who attended last year’s invitational,” the emailed invitation read, according to the Guardian. “Nothing short of a certified and countersigned letter by an accredited medical practitioner will suffice as excuse.”

The manager “failed to take reasonable care for the safety of co-workers” at the event, the suit alleges, noting that another PwC employee suffered a serious injury in 2016. The company ended the event, which had been going on for several years, after Brockie’s injury in 2019, the Guardian reported

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Brockie is seeking damages of 200,000 pounds (about $235,000) as well as an order that would entitle him to more payments in the future, according to the Financial Times.

Boyes Turner LLP, the legal firm representing Brockie, did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment.