San Francisco venture capital firm sued for sexual harassment

Posted in Sexual Harassment on March 21, 2013

Although there are certainly some prominent women in positions of power, much of Silicon Valley remains a “boy’s club.” As evidence of this, three Silicon Valley venture capital firms have faced allegations of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation over the last year.

In the most recent case, three women at a major San Francisco-based venture capital firm have filed a lawsuit against their former employer alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. According to their lawsuit, the women were harassed by one of the firm’s former partners and when they filed a complaint, the company retaliated by increasing workloads and taking away access to overtime.

The alleged perpetrator of the harassment was the firm’s former president and chief operating partner. According to the complaint, the defendant regularly made inappropriate comments including calling one of the plaintiffs a “dirty bird” and asking another if she “groomed her pubic hair.” The women also allege that he sometimes watched pornography at the office.

When the women filed a formal complaint, it was investigated by an independent human resources firm contracted by the company. The HR firm found that the women’s complaints had merit, and as a result, the company dismissed the employee and bought out his financial interests.

But the women say that their working conditions changed after that. They were given larger workloads and had their access to overtime taken away. The plaintiffs say that one of the partners complained that the women’s formal complaint had cost the firm “a lot of money.”

All three women have since resigned from the company. Even though the former partner was fired, the women alleged that “management did not take reasonable steps to protect female and minority employees from (defendant’s) severe and pervasive harassment, and have perpetuated the problem since his departure.”

This case appears to be a classic example of how a male-dominated office culture can quickly turn into a hostile work environment for female employees and lead to inappropriate sexual comments and harassment. Hopefully, the allegations made against this and two other venture capital firms will send an important message to all of Silicon Valley to respect the rights of women in the workplace.

Source: New York Times, “Venture Capitalists Face Another Sexual Harassment Suit,” Nicole Perlroth, Mar. 12, 2013