Ex-WeWork boss 'smoked cannabis on private planes and discriminated against pregnant staff'

Company says it will ‘vigorously defend itself’ against claim made by former senior employee

Brendan Pierson
Friday 01 November 2019 10:22
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Adam Neumann was ousted as CEO in September after the firm’s valuation plummeted
Adam Neumann was ousted as CEO in September after the firm’s valuation plummeted

The former chief of staff to ousted WeWork chief executive Adam Neumann has accused him and the company of discrimination, saying she feared for the health of her unborn baby because of Mr Neumann’s penchant for smoking marijuana on chartered planes.

She also said she was replaced by a man making more than twice her salary when she took maternity leave.

In a complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Medina Bardhi said she began suffering discrimination soon after telling Mr Neumann that she was pregnant with her first child in 2016.

She said in the complaint that she had been hesitant to tell him early in her pregnancy, but was forced to do so because of his smoking marijuana on the flights, potentially exposing her unborn child to secondhand smoke.

Ms Bardhi said she was fired about six months after giving birth to her second child and just weeks after raising concerns about discrimination in connection with her pregnancy and maternity leave.

“WeWork intends to vigorously defend itself against this claim,” the company said in a statement. “We have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.”

Ms Bardhi’s complaint, filed on behalf of a proposed class of other female employees, also names Jennifer Berrent, who was WeWork’s chief legal officer, saying she referred to Ms Bardhi’s first pregnancy as a “problem” that needed to be “fixed”.

Mr Neumann also referred to Ms Bardhi’s upcoming maternity leave as a “vacation”, the complaint said.

Ms Bardhi said that when she returned from maternity leave, she was not given her old job back for several months.

The pattern repeated itself when she became pregnant in 2018, had a child and took maternity leave again, according to Ms Bardhi’s complaint. She was fired on 2 October, about a week after Mr Neumann stepped down as WeWork’s chief executive, and was told that her role had been eliminated, according to the complaint.

Ms Bardhi said other women at the company also felt discriminated against.

“For years, they have been subjected to a work environment in which female employees are demeaned for taking maternity leave, excessive alcohol consumption fuels offensive sexual conduct towards women, and where it is common for women to be paid less than their male colleagues,” Ms Bardhi said in the complaint.

WeWork is already facing other complaints of discrimination, including a lawsuit by a former senior vice president, Lisa Bridges, who says the company tried to force her out when she presented evidence that it compensated men better than women.

Mr Neumann agreed to resign as chief executive and give up majority voting control of the company in September after SoftBank and other shareholders turned on him over a plunge in the company’s estimated valuation ahead of a planned initial public offering.

Reuters

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