PWC May Be Sanctioned For Professional Negligence Over Partner’s Oscar Tweeting

Image Credit: Prayitno Licensed Under CC 2.0.

When you have a simple and fun job to do don’t screw it up by Tweeting about it in real time. PriceWaterhouseCoopers partner Brian Cullinan, who is the Academy Awards Oscar account Co-Ballot Leader recently stated, “It doesn’t sound very complicated, but you have to make sure you give the presenter the right envelope.” Unfortunately, it appears that Cullinan didn’t follow his own advice until it was too late last night during the Oscar awards ceremony.

For those who didn’t watch the Academy Awards and haven’t yet read about this monumental mistake, it appears that Cullinan or a member of his staff gave Warren Beatty the wrong envelope for Best Picture. Beatty seemed perplexed about what he saw on the envelope when it was time to read the winner for Best Picture and handed it to his co-presenter Faye Dunaway who announced the wrong winner because of the mistake. Beatty was handed an envelope with Emma Stone’s name on it and she won for La La Land so that appears to be why Dunaway announced La La Land was the winner of the Best Picture category.

Those involved with La La Land went on stage and started to give their thanks while PWC’s auditors slowly (if they memorized the winner like they claimed to do so it would have been handled much quicker) tried to fix their mistake. About two minutes later, it was announced a mistake had been made and Moonlight was the real winner.  Soon after the awards show ended, PWC issued an apology and took full responsibility for the matter.  While its too early to definitively determine what exactly happened and how Warren Beatty received the wrong envelope, The New York Post is reporting that PWC Co-Ballot Leader Brian Cullinan who was backstage and one of the two PWC auditors overseeing the event scrubbed his Oscar night Tweets by this morning.

Cullinan’s social media posts and traditional media appears to paint a picture of someone who enjoys bragging about his association with the Oscars and his personal activities. For example, Cullinan and PWC have been very aggressive in boasting about their role in counting the Oscar ballots.  In an interesting twist, The Wall Street Journal has reported that Cullinan’s social media activity was not sanctioned by the Academy and that he was denied permission to Tweet backstage during the Oscars.

Did Cullinan violate his professional responsibility towards the Academy and could he and/or PWC face legal and/or financial repercussions? Under California’s Code of Professional Conduct For Accountants it states, “[i]n carrying out their responsibilities as professionals, members should exercise sensitive professional and moral judgments in all their activities.” It further states, “[m]embers should be diligent in discharging responsibilities to clients, employers and the public. Diligence imposes the responsibility to render services promptly and carefully, to be thorough and to observe applicable technical and ethical standards.”

The California Board of Accountancy‘s (CBA) official government website states, that “[t]he CBA has statutory authority to discipline its registrants and licensees for violations of the Accountancy Act which may include “[n]egligence or incompetence”.  As a member of the California Board of Accountancy, Brian Cullinan must abide by their rules and regulations to keep his license.  Therefore, if Cullinan was tweeting during the Oscars instead of focusing on his job he may have violated California’s code of Professional Conduct for accountants.  This in turn may lead to professional sanctions and/or tremendous legal liability for PWC and/or Cullinan.

Over the years, I have wanted to take photos of and Tweet about some of the cool, fun, and interesting things that I do because of my job; however, I know that one simple mistake could lead to a major embarrassing situation for my clients and/or myself. I have avoided publicly discussing or posting about most of my work because as a lawyer I am engaged to help my clients protect their secrets and not publicize my role in their lives. Lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc… to high profile clients can’t let their work go to their head or mistakes will happen.

If Cullinan would have paid more attention to his job instead of Tweeting about the perks of it in real time, it appears that Warren Beatty would have received the correct envelope and Faye Dunaway would not have read the wrong winner for Best Picture. This screw up demonstrates that PWC and other companies need to create and enforce more robust social media policies and train their staff about what can happen when you are so distracted by awesome perks of an assignment that you forget to do your job because you are too busy bragging to the world.