Allegations of racist, sexist and bullying behaviour have been made against the chairwoman of the Institute of Directors.
Lady Barbara Judge told the Times newspaper she had temporarily stepped aside to contest the accusations.
The business lobby group is meeting to discuss the contents of a report commissioned by the IoD into her alleged behaviour.
The IoD frequently calls for better corporate governance in UK firms.
The allegations reported in The Times are that Lady Judge made derogatory comments about staff, including that “blacks can get aggressive”.
Lady Judge allegedly told the IoD’s director general that “the problem is we have one black and one pregnant woman [on the IoD secretariat] and that is the worst combination we could possibly have”.
She also allegedly bullied her assistant, making her cry on a number of occasions. Lady Judge also allegedly made her assistant stand on the staircase for an hour “whilst a painter considered the best light in which to paint a portrait of Lady Judge”.
In addition, there were allegations that Lady Judge asked IoD staff to help organise a show for her fashion range at the Chinese embassy last September.
She is also said to have put pressure on the facilities manager to meet a company that her son held an interest in with a view to fitting out the third floor of the IoD’s office, despite the tender having been awarded.
Lady Judge told the Times: “This case concerns confidential allegations of a nature that I take very seriously. I have co-operated in full with the IoD’s investigation in order to support its efforts to resolve this matter fairly.
“It is incredibly disappointing that a draft confidential legal report has been leaked before a decision has even been made to proceed and before I have been given an opportunity to respond to its findings, thereby denying me any right to a fair hearing.”
Analysis: Simon Gompertz, business correspondent
Lady Judge is one of the country’s most senior business figures, with a CV crammed with honours and directorships.
She was previously chair of the Pension Protection Fund, had senior roles in the nuclear industry, and was appointed a CBE.
After allegedly receiving a string of complaints, the Institute of Directors commissioned a report, the draft version of which has been discussed by the members’ council.
Lady Judge is contesting the allegations.
Today the director general Stephen Martin wrote to the 30,000 members telling them they have a right to see the organisation embodying the highest standards of behaviour and governance.
But there’s now a fear that the affair is causing a civil war at the top of the IOD as board members take sides.
One called the situation a corporate train wreck.
Caroline Prosser of Hill Dickinson, the employment lawyer who wrote the report, told the BBC that the document submitted to the IoD was “full and final”.
She confirmed that the allegations as reported by the Times had been made.
“There are other serious allegations,” she said, but declined to elaborate.
Ms Prosser said: “I had free rein to carry out a full and fair investigation.” She said she had interviewed Lady Judge over two days for a total of 10-and-a-half hours with her lawyer from Addleshaw Goddard present.
Ms Prosser also said she had interviewed IoD deputy Sir Kenneth Olisa over two days.
The Times reported that she mentioned in her report that the IoD “may wish” to investigate how he and other board members had handled concerns from employees about Lady Judge’s alleged conduct.
He is quoted in the Times as criticising the senior council member who had commissioned the report, saying it “patently fails to comply with the principles of natural justice… and is fatally flawed from a procedural perspective”, defamatory, and contained “errors of fact”.
The investigation, which was commissioned by Dame Joan Stringer, the IoD’s senior council member, took in interviews from 14 complainants, Ms Prosser said. There were 41 allegations levelled against Lady Judge, she said.
The complainants were from “right across the organisation” and included ones from junior staff, Ms Prosser added.
The IoD said in a statement: “You may have seen allegations about the conduct of some non-executive members of the IoD’s board in the media this morning.
“The IoD takes these allegations very seriously. An independent law firm, Hill Dickinson, was commissioned to conduct a full investigation, and the findings have now been passed to the IoD’s Board and Council. The Council will be meeting to discuss the report this afternoon.
“At all times, we seek to embody the highest standards of behaviour and governance. We aim to ensure this process is conducted thoroughly and fairly, and lives up to expectations of the IoD.”